An Eden Hazard inspired Chelsea eased to a 4-1 victory to maintain their 100% Premier League record after Cardiff took an early lead at Stamford Bridge.
After a slow start to the game Sol Bamba gave Cardiff a shock lead in the 16th minute when Chelsea failed to defend the second ball from a set piece and allowed the giant Ivorian to tap into an empty net.
Having gone behind, Chelsea started to dominate the game and show their class with a front three of Hazard, Giroud and Pedro all linking well to cause all sorts of problems for the Cardiff defence. Some last ditch defending and fine goalkeeping from Neil Etheridge meant that typically flowing Chelsea moves led to chances that were not converted. It did seem like a matter of time, but it took a bit of brilliance from Eden Hazard to put Chelsea in front. A dummy from the Belgian, a first time ball to him from Giroud, a shimmy and a pin-point shot into the corner of the net. 1-1.
Seven minutes later and Chelsea had the lead. A quick free kick and some fine build up play led to Giroud expertly teeing up Eden Hazard to score his second of the game, this time via a deflection. 2-1.
Chelsea were not as fluent in the early stages of the second half, seemingly content to sit on their lead until Cardiff were forced to chase the game. With time running out Cardiff made attacking substitutions which worked in Chelsea’s favour. Willian, having come off the bench to replace Pedro was brought down by Sol Bamba who inexplicably dived in on the Brazilian, who was awarded the penalty. Hazard stepped up and converted the penalty in his typically nonchalant style to earn him only his second hat-trick for Chelsea. 3-1.
Willian then rounded off a comfortable day for Chelsea with a wonderful curling effort from outside the penalty area. 4-1.
Chelsea played their most fluent football of the season so far. They again enjoyed the lion’s share of possession, but were allowed more space than they have been afforded by other teams so far this season. Neil Warnock was brave in his tactics, asking his Cardiff players to press high whenever possible and not content to sit back and ‘park the bus’ like many in his position may have done. But this did play into Chelsea’s hands. Hazard and Pedro consistently found space between Cardiff’s defence and midfield, and their link up play with Olivier Giroud was spectacular at times.
The often maligned Giroud was influential in all of Chelsea’s attacking thrust and offered so much more than Alvaro Morata, who had started all the previous games for Chelsea this season. His hold up play was superb, and his deft touches consistently found their marks. Not your typical 20 goal a season striker, the quintessential ‘team player’ was crucial in France’s World Cup victory in the summer and will be if Chelsea hold any real ambition of challenging for the title this season.
Cardiff lacked quality. Danny Ward did his best up front on his own, holding the ball up well at times and Bobby Reid looked sporadically dangerous. However, with a slow and ponderous midfield they are really going to struggle to play through the lines, and although they look dangerous at set pieces, it is unlikely they will score the goals they need to avoid a relegation dogfight.
The concern for Maurizio Sarei remains the defence, particularly from set pieces. David Luiz is a great footballer and provides increased threat with his range of passing, but with his inclusion in the side there is no place for Christensen or Cahill, both superior in terms of their defensive organisation and aerial ability.
Man of the Match
Eden Hazard was one of the players of the World Cup, guiding his Belgian side to 3rd place. He has continued that fine form into the Premier League season. Chelsea fans would have feared they would not be seeing the dancing feet of the Belgian this year, after he was heavily linked with a move away. But he looks like he is now playing his best football in a Chelsea shirt. Sarri has clearly told Hazard to go out there, get on the ball and enjoy himself. That’s exactly what he is doing. He is developing an almost telepathic understanding with teammate Olivier Giroud and was impossible to mark in this game.
Hazard’s talent has always been apparent. It now looks like he has got a manager that will allow him to truly realise that talent. What has separated Hazard from the very best in the game in the past has been his comparative low numbers of goals and assists. With 5 goals and 2 assists this season, it looks like he could now be bridging that gap.
Early season form still suggests that Man City and Liverpool are the main contenders for the Premier League title, but Chelsea are quietly going about their business and could provide more competition at the top of the Premier League than many predicted this season.
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