It’s not Valentine’s Day yet, and the love affair between Jose Mourinho and Eden Hazard is approaching unbridled, lilac-scented Mills & Boon infatuation. Who needs Belgian chocolates when you have a Belgian footballer with pretensions to be the best on the planet?
Chelsea moved to the top of the Premier League courtesy of Hazard’s first hat-trick for the club. Mourinho, who had set the tone by suggesting Hazard was the natural successor to Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, was in no mood to temper his praise.
“Eden has had a big evolution” he said. “He is playing with consistency and ambition. His level today was not different from other performances this season, other than the fact he scored. You can’t hide at the top of the League, but individually he is in a very good moment.”
Hazard has been reprogrammed, recalibrated. He acknowledges he has been transformed into a more tactically aware, team-focused player by a manager who is “very close” to his players. A lot closer than the Newcastle defence got to him at Stamford Bridge, when he became only the fourth player to score three times in a Premier League match this season.
Hazard had effectively decided the game by half-time, with two goals of similar quality but distinctive style. He completed only his second senior hat trick – the first was for Lille – 18 minutes after the interval by calmly converting a penalty given at the behest of linesman Darren Cann, who noticed Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa rugby tackling Samuel Eto’o in an off the ball incident.
Hazard has now scored 12 Premier League goals, 14 in total, this season. Chelsea have overhauled Arsenal with little apparent effort, and will approach Saturday’s FA Cup tie at Manchester City with impressive resolve and jaunty confidence.
You get what you pay for, and the value of investments is relative. If anyone can appear a bargain at £32 million, Hazard can. Mourinho was irritated by Chelsea’s initial diffidence, but visibly relaxed once when the Belgian began and finished the move which led to them taking a 27th-minute lead.
He advanced with trademark pace and control after a sharp turn, feeding Branislav Ivanovic on the right with a diagonal pass before sweeping in the full back’s squared return ball. Chelsea’s second goal, six minutes later, was simply sumptuous.
It started from a corner, conceded when Moussa Sissoko wasted Newcastle’s best chance of the match with a heavy touch which allowed Petr Cech to parry his shot. It flowed the length of the pitch through David Luiz, Willian and Hazard before the Belgian continued his run on to a back-heeled flick by Eto’o.
The sidefooted finish was a formality. “Real class” acknowledged Newcastle manager Alan Pardew. “He is at the top of his game. This is a great platform for him, but his work rate, in fact everything about him, was excellent.”
As for Mourinho, the fire is back in the old rascal’s eyes, even if his analogies require a little work. All that nonsense about horses, milk and the comparative sizes of nags in the Premier League is just Mourinho clearing his throat. He promised, with a smile, “the horse is dead”.
It was an indication of Newcastle’s limited threat that he indulged himself beforehand, by borrowing one of Fergie’s most under-rated weapons – theatrical sympathy. His friendship with Pardew ensured he was respectful, rather than scornful after another extension of the pantomime season at St James’ Park.
The travelling fans massed in the right hand corner of the Shed, singing songs of unrequited love and loyalty. At the risk of spoiling a fine romance with cold, hard statistics, a summary of the respective clubs’ transfer dealings over the last five years explained the venom directed at Newcastle owner Mike Ashley.
The sale of Yohan Cabaye means Newcastle are £45m in profit, the most in the Premier League. Only Manchester City have amassed a bigger deficit than Chelsea, who have suffered a net loss of £282m.
Mourinho was able to introduce Egypt international Mohammed Salah, at £15m the latest player to embody the largesse of Roman Abramovich, for the last 12 minutes. He has City where he wants them, on the back foot.
He scents weaknesses, not just in the way he imposed himself tactically in last Monday’s coaching duel at the Etihad, but personally. If Manuel Pellegrini really is serious about taking the Chelsea manager on in psychological warfare, he is using a peashooter against a tank.
Mourinho, the master of the subliminal statement and the coded message, is in his element. Despite dismissing Chelsea’s status as new title favourites, he knows the League is winnable. So do his players. Love is in the air, down at the Bridge.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech; Ivanovic, Luiz, Cahill, Azpilicueta; Matic, Lampard; Ramires, Willian (Salah, 78), Oscar, Hazard (Schurrle, 85); Eto’o (Ba, 71).
Newcastle (4-4-1-1): Krul; Debuchy (Yanga-Mbiwa, 40), Williamson, S Taylor, Santon; Dummett, Anita (Marveaux, 85), Sissoko, Ben Arfa (Gosling, 64); Sammy Ameobi; De Jong.
Referee Howard Webb.
Man of the match Hazard (Chelsea).
Match rating 7/10.