Gonzalo Higuain scored his first goals in English football as Chelsea beat Huddersfield Town 5-0 at Stamford Bridge to ease the pressure on Maurizio Sarri.
A second Premier League victory of 2019 was exactly what Sarri needed after Wednesday’s shock 4-0 humiliation against Bournemouth, even if Chelsea were less than fully convincing at home to the division’s bottom club.
Higuain rifled beyond Jonas Lossl at his near post to put Chelsea ahead in the 16th minute, and Eden Hazard made sure of the victory when he doubled the home side’s lead from the penalty spot shortly before half-time.
Hazard struck again in the second half before Higuain added a layer of gloss to proceedings with a sublime 25-yard curler. David Luiz headed in Willian’s corner late on to give Sarri the emphatic response he wanted to Chelsea’s midweek nightmare at the Vitality Stadium.
The result sees Chelsea leapfrog Arsenal back into fourth place in the Premier League as the Gunners prepare to take on champions Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday, and Sarri will have been particularly pleased to see Higuain looking noticeably sharper on his third appearance in a week.
Despite a spirited response to Higuain’s opener Huddersfield could not conjure a repeat of last season’s 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge that secured Premier League survival under David Wagner, and their attempts to avoid relegation this time under successor Jan Siewert look increasingly forlorn.
Sarri insisted that he would not deviate from his tactical ‘Plan A’ and he stuck with his favoured 4-3-3 formation, though Antonio Rudiger’s knee injury saw Andreas Christensen paired with David Luiz in central defence. Marcos Alonso and Ross Barkley replaced Emerson Palmieri and Mateo Kovacic respectively.
Callum Hudson-Odoi, forced to watch Chelsea’s defeat to Bournemouth from the stands after his transfer request, was back among the substitutes.
Chelsea started brightly in front of a slightly subdued Stamford Bridge, but it was Huddersfield who threatened first. Aaron Mooy, detailed to man-mark Jorginho in defence, surged forward to head Chris Lowe’s inviting cross just over.
It wasn’t until N’Golo Kante found Higuain with a cleverly disguised pass that Chelsea finally carved open the Huddersfield defence. The Argentine found the net with one touch before wheeling away, arms outstretched in delight.
His early goal did not entirely settle Chelsea’s nerves, though, and Huddersfield caused several moments of panic with direct passes and speed on the flanks. Adama Diakhaby found particular success racing into the space left by Alonso’s regular forays forward, with Sarri gesticulating wildly from the sidelines.
It took a penalty on the stroke of half-time to calm the anxiety at Stamford Bridge. Elias Kachunga felled Cesar Azpilicueta as the Spaniard surged into Huddersfield’s penalty area, referee Paul Tierney pointed to the spot and Hazard stepped up to calmly convert his 11th Premier League goal of the season.
Chelsea were far more dominant after the interval as Huddersfield pushed forward in search of a way back into the match, with Hazard and Willian taking every opportunity to drive at the visiting defence on the counter-attack.
Hazard got his second in the 66th minute, taking Ross Barkley’s incisive pass in stride and rounding Lossl before firing in left-footed from a tight angle.
It was left to Higuain to provide the game’s most memorable moment though. Drifting just outside the Huddersfield penalty area, he met Kante’s layoff with an unstoppable curling short that soared into Lossl’s top corner.
Sarri found time to give Hudson-Odoi a cameo with victory secured, the 18-year-old replacing Hazard who left the field to a standing ovation from Stamford Bridge. Huddersfield’s misery was complete when Kachunga deflected Luiz’s powerful header from Willian’s corner past Lossl four minutes from time.
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