Hazard makes his mark as Chelsea's new danger man


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The Independent Online

When Gary Caldwell put the boot into Eden Hazard after 10 minutes it was the first time anyone had managed to touch the 21-year-old. And he had already proved by then that he will be a substantial part of the nine-month story which lies ahead.

For half this match, Chelsea's £32m acquisition was far beyond the grasp of the defence Roberto Martinez has assembled for what felt like another terribly long road to survival after they slipped 2-0 down inside seven minutes.

The Belgian brings guile to a midfield which once lacked that quality in all but Frank Lampard. If anything, the problem now is that it is coming from so many quarters that it may be difficult to provide some structure. Though Victor Moses glittered in a way that will make Dave Whelan's £9m price – reduced from £10m – seem attractive to Stamford Bridge, it is difficult to know exactly where he will fit in.

The way Chelsea began suggested that Roberto di Matteo has the finished product across the midfield - as well as in attack and defence - and is ready to reduce to pulp his lofty position as the second favourite in the sack race.

The game was barely into its second minute when Hazard, his back to goal in the centre circle, received a ball processed sharply out of defence through the excellent Juan Mata and Lampard, span on it to leave Ivan Ramis rooted, and thundered forward into the empty space that passed for a Wigan midfield. His spacial awareness allowed him to locate Branislav Ivanovic running into the inside channel to receive his pass and score.

Perhaps Wigan had read too much into last Sunday's Community Shield, in which Hazard's game was notable for a fluffed back-heel that caused him to fall on his face, because his threat still had not dawned on them when his pace took him past Ramis and Maynor Figueroa into the penalty area, where Ramis tripped him. Lampard's penalty was converted low to goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi's left.

Martinez's players have spent too much time chasing almost lost causes in the past two years to concede an afternoon so soon, and what followed was a genuine contest, but one that ultimately proved far beyond the hosts.