Here is the rub for Jose Mourinho. A quite breathtaking display from a player who did not return in time for training when he popped over to France last month, or the kind of defending you would never picture from one of his teams, and certainly not one with genuine aspirations to win the Premier League title.
The Chelsea manager has that to ponder after another night that reminded everyone it is not his Chelsea; a mismatch of flair and failings that will drive the mechanical mind of Mourinho to distraction.
First, to Hazard, who was quite breathtaking in his role on the left-hand side of the visitors’ front three, tucked behind the once again woeful Fernando Torres. That this game should never have reached its final, mad six minute of extra time with one goal separating the seven scored by both teams lay at the Spaniard’s feet and those of the defenders who proved so susceptible at the three set-pieces from which the home side scored.
Hazard created the first for Frank Lampard, scored the following two that moved Chelsea into a 3-2 lead and was a problem Gus Poyet’s side was incapable of solving.
When Phil Bardsley put into his own goal with six minutes remaining, there appeared a modicum of calm for the visitors, one deserved for Hazard at least, but then the same Sunderland player scored for his own side, from a corner, and there was a desperate finish that had Mourinho bouncing around his technical area in disbelief. By then there was precious little control and only some desperate late defending secured a victory that is, as yet, impossible to quantify in terms of its significance.
Sunderland had scored first, after just 14 minutes. Jozy Altidore took a touch with his back to goal, turned John Terry and fired a shot beyond Petr Cech.
From that point Chelsea took control. Less than three minutes had passed after the goal when a corner ended up on the right side of the Sunderland penalty area, with Hazard. From there he took control of both the ball, and the game, jinking back onto his right foot to cross into the heart of the six yard area before Craig Gardner, his marker, could react. The home defence was similarly caught asleep and Lampard rose unmarked to head in his third Premier League goal in his last three games.
Chelsea moved effortlessly up a gear. Torres shot over the crossbar from 12 yards after Altidore had failed to clear a Juan Mata free-kick. It did not matter, by the 36th minute Chelsea had their lead and Mourinho flicked out an arm in celebration.
This time Hazard did it all on his own, collecting the ball on the touchline, he moved effortlessly before rifling his low drive into the bottom corner of Vito Mannone’s goal.
Sunderland somehow dragged themselves back into the game. A scuffed right wing corner from Emanuele Giaccherini seemed to be touched by Bardsley and then missed by Wes Brown as it went past three defenders in blue shirts. Gary Cahill, who was supposed to be marking John O’Shea lost concentration and he struck a low shot past Cech.
In the 57th minute there was another warning for the home side. They were simply ill equipped to deal with Hazard. Five minutes later he played a one-two with Lampard, took a return pass, and showed Torres how to finish, smashing a right foot shot past Mannone.
Substitute Demba Ba’s low cross, in the 84th minute, was struck into his own goal by Bardsley. Incredibly the defender lost his marker, Ba, from a home corner less than two minutes later to hit Sunderland’s third.
Man of the match Hazard.
Match rating 7/10.
Referee P Dowd (Staffs).