Hazard shapes up to starring role
Chelsea 2 Newcastle United 0: Belgian hits the spot in another inspired performance as Chelsea continue to set early-season pace
Chelsea have not lost a Premier League match in August since 2006, 21 matches ago, and have won 12 of the last 13. As it was tipping down most of the game yesterday it would be stretching a point to suggest Chelsea play at their best with the sun on their backs but they clearly start the season superbly regardless of who the manager is.
But while their supporters will be careful not to read too much into their perfect opening to this embryonic season, the ease with which they brushed aside Newcastle yesterday suggested they will take some shifting from their position atop the Premier League table.
New signing Eden Hazard is already shaping up to be the star of the season and he scored his first goal in English football, then supplied a sixth assist, for Fernando Torres, as Chelsea made it three wins from three. "He hasn't surprised us," said Roberto Di Matteo. "We had watched him a lot last season. It's a different league, so you're not quite sure how he'll adapt to the Premier League, but he seems to have found his feet very quickly. He's a wonderful player for us."
The admiring Newcastle manager Alan Pardew agreed. " He's a difficult player because he travels with the ball and buys time," he said. "He's got a kind of nonchalance about him that marks him out as a great player. He made the right decision every time he got it today. That's what marks him out as a great player, you can tell. He made a difference to Chelsea today, from last season."
With Frank Lampard and Ramires used only from the bench, John Terry injured (a stiff neck – an odd ailment given it seems to be made of brass), and Oscar not required, the European Champions can travel to Monaco to play Atletico Madrid in Friday's Uefa Super Cup confident of mounting a sustained challenge on the domestic front. That is hardly surprising given Roman Abramovich is back in spending mode. Before kick-off Chelsea unveiled Victor Moses, their £9m recruit from Wigan. The arrival of Moses and Marseille full-back Cesar Azpilicueta takes to £80m Chelsea's summer spending.
Newcastle have fewer funds but in an indication of the club's growing squad strength Pardew changed nine of the starting XI that drew 1-1 with Atromitos of Athens in the Europa League on Thursday. Papiss Cissé, who scored twice here in the spring to create Chelsea's only home defeat of 2012, and Vurnon Anita, the Dutch midfielder signed this summer, were the exceptions. Perhaps tiredness told for Anita, who comes with a good reputation having attended the Ajax finishing school since he was nine, was the culprit for Chelsea's opening goal. The 23-year-old carelessly stuck a leg out after Torres dribbled past Davide Santon after 21 minutes. Pardew thought Torres "made a big meal" of the challenge and maybe he did but it was still a penalty.
With Lampard benched, Hazard tucked away the kick to give Chelsea a lead they just about deserved having controlled possession and kept Tim Krul busy with efforts from Hazard and Ryan Bertrand. While Chelsea moved forward as a unit, supporting each other well off the ball, Newcastle's front two were isolated. Hatem Ben Arfa showed plenty of skill but found himself marked by not one, but two England left-backs with Bertrand playing in front of Ashley Cole.
Cissé and Demba Ba are, however, a dangerous pair even when feeding off scraps and Cissé tested Petr Cech's concentration with a snap-shot towards the end of the half. Then, as injury-time ticked away, Chelsea struck again with a sublime goal. Torres received a pass from Juan Mata, fed Hazard then ran on to the Belgian's back-heeled pass before driving the ball past Krul with the outside of his boot.
"When we lost Didier we lost a big powerhouse up front," said Cole, "someone we'd knock it up to, but we've signed a few smaller players. We have to get the ball down and play, and the second goal showed what we can do".
It was a highly satisfying response for Torres to being booked for diving. The striker had turned Fabricio Coloccini in midfield then tumbled over the defender's trailing leg. There was contact but, to Torres' fury, Phil Dowd judged he had run into Coloccini deliberately.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1) Cech; Ivanovic, Cahill, Luiz, Cole; Mikel, Meireles (Lampard, 87); Mata (Ramires, 67), Hazard, Bertrand; Torres.
Newcastle United (4-4-2): Krul; Simpson R Taylor, 64) S Taylor, Coloccini, Santon (Marveaux, 75); Ben Arfa, Anita, Cabaye (Perch, 77), Guttierez; Ba, Cissé.
Referee: Phil Dowd
Man of the match: Hazard (Chelsea)
Match rating: 7/10
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