Chelsea in first place after Hazard hat-trick and win over Newcastle United

Belgian midfielder notched two goals in the first half before his penalty in the 63rd minute gave Chelsea all the cushion they would need, writes Jonathan Wilson.

Chelsea's Eden Hazard celebrates after scoring a goal during their English Premier League match against Newcastle United at Stamford Bridge in London on Saturday. FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA / EPA
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Chelsea 3 Newcastle United 0

Chelsea Hazard 27', 34', (pen) 63'

Man of the match Eden Hazard (Chelsea)

LONDON // As the others falter, Chelsea simply become more relentless.

A clean sheet against Newcastle United means they have now conceded just twice in their past 11 games and, with Arsenal losing and Manchester City only able to draw at Norwich City, it feels as though the title race, after the chaotic free-for-all of the first two thirds of the season, may have taken a decisive turn.

The opposition presented by Newcastle was rarely more than perfunctory, but still this was an impressively matter-of-fact victory for Chelsea, one that combined efficiency with sparkle.

Manager Jose Mourinho said he was disappointed in the lack of pressing from his side in the first half and in the way they failed to control Moussa Sissoko’s runs on the Newcastle left, but his team rarely looked in danger.

Nemanja Matic looks a monster at the back of midfield, full of muscle and intelligence as he breaks up opposition attacks, while a dash of magic was supplied by Eden Hazard, a player who has been transformed over the past year from twinkle-toed dilettante into a tireless worker whose moments of invention have a clearly defined purpose.

His third came from the penalty spot, Frank Lampard stepping aside to allow him to complete his hat-trick after Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa had wrestled Samuel Eto’o to the ground, but his first two were both the result of devastating one-twos.

The first was good, Hazard sweeping in after a smart exchange of passes with Branislav Ivanovic, but the second was sensational. David Luiz carried the ball out from defence and fed Willian, who nudged it out to Hazard. He cut infield, laid the ball into the box for Eto’o and ran on to sidefoot the ball home as the Cameroonian back-heeled the ball between Steven Taylor and Mike Williamson and into his path.

“His performance today was not different to other performances he’s had,” Mourinho said of the young Belgian. “The only difference is that he scored, that he had three for the first time. There’s been a big evolution in him.”

Alan Pardew pointed out that that goal emulated from a Newcastle corner won after Sissoko had spurned a one-on-one, his heavy first touch allowing Petr Cech to make the block. Perhaps an equaliser then would have changed the mood, but that was Newcastle’s one real chance and to use that incident to suggest they were somehow close to throwing Chelsea out of their stride is to clutch at straws.

This feels again like the old Chelsea, the one Mourinho led to the title in his first two seasons at the club.

“I’ve played against a lot of Mourinho sides,” Pardew said, “and this is as good as he’s had.” Mourinho demurred: “Can be,” he said.

There is a solidity about them, an energy and a physicality that intimidates opponents, but there is also something more subtle, a skill and a panache that prevents them becoming predictable.

There is still a third of the season to go, and with Chelsea and City both facing relatively easy league fixtures over the next month it is likely to be a while before anything is settled. The advantage, though, and the momentum is with Chelsea.

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