There was a moment after a victory which took Chelsea to the top of the Premier League for the first time since September that Jose Mourinho was effectively asked to praise the once-again outstanding Eden Hazard.
“The club made a big investment in him last year,” Mourinho said. “To bring a player from France and pay the amount Chelsea did was because Chelsea liked the player and now the player is not any more a talented kid, he is now more than that, he is a player who feels and accepts the responsibility; he feels and accepts that a team player is more than a talented player. Without losing his fantastic ability and fantastic talent he is giving us other things. This is a very good moment of his career.”
The Chelsea manager could have been setting out the template for anyone who plays for him. Mourinho rarely misses a trick. Afforded the opportunity to praise the dazzling individuality of Hazard, who produced another memorable goal in the 56th minute of what had previously been a tight game, he instead reiterated the importance of the team; a team he again was at pains to remind us was one that has finished sixth and third in the last two seasons.
“It is a different team and it is a different Premier League [to when he last won it],” Mourinho added. “It is important, it is good to be top, it helps the players to be better and to be stronger and to grow faster. When you are 20 points behind the leader you have no pressure. We could do better. We lost some points that we shouldn’t. It could also be worse. Not a five out of ten, not a ten. Seven, seven-and-a-half, eight. Around there.”
Fernando Torres had confirmed victory, late on, with a smart finish, but Chelsea would have gone ahead just past the half-hour but for a superb piece of goalkeeping from Allan McGregor.
His outstanding moment had come in the 34th minute. The move from Chelsea was neat, clever and incisive. Ashley Cole delicately chipped the ball to Hazard on the left side of the Hull penalty area, the Belgian crossed low to Oscar and the unmarked Brazilian had the time to take a touch before firing a right-foot shot that seemed certain to give Mourinho’s side the lead. McGregor, however, produced a breathtaking reaction save with his left hand to tip the goal-bound shot over his crossbar. The opening half had also seen Alex Bruce deflect a Fernando Torres shot away for a corner when the Spaniard broke.
Those chances, however, did not reflect just how well Hull had done in the early stages, something Mourinho later praised. Petr Cech had to stand strong to deny long-range efforts from Ahmed Elmohamady and Jake Livermore and he would have been powerless in the 26th minute when a mistake by John Terry allowed Yannick Sagbo the opportunity of a one-on-one with the Czech goalkeeper. Sagbo, however, chose to shoot for goal with his right foot, when his left looked better suited and the golden chance was gone.
He would be given a master class in finishing by Hazard early in the second half.
David Luiz began the move, playing the ball to Cole, just outside the Hull penalty area. The left-back’s flick was clever and from there Hazard first went past James Chester, then Alex Bruce, but such was his level of control that he made sure he was free from Bruce with another clever dummy that left the defender grounded, before drilling a low right-footed drive into the bottom corner of McGregor’s goal.
It was Hazard’s 10th Premier League goal of the season from the wide forward role in which he has flourished. He had caused similar problems with an earlier dazzling run but the warning had not been heeded.
“Three consecutive times he has won the man of the match, which is something nice,” added Mourinho. “Let’s see if the Premier League decides to give him the player of the month.”
For Hull City, a dipping free-kick by Tom Huddlestone from a tight angle was as close as the home side would come.
Instead, Chelsea added a second goal through Torres who, after another indifferent afternoon, finally produced a moment of quality as he took a pass from Willian and drove past Bruce before drilling a left-footed shot into the corner of the Hull goal.
“The quality of Hazard was there for everyone to see,” said Steve Bruce, who confirmed a bid had been accepted for the Everton striker Nikica Jelavic.
“We found it very difficult in the second half. As I kept saying to my players, when you take on the big boys and you keep giving them the ball they are going to punish you. When you chase it, it becomes stretched. We have done particularly well but we are only at the halfway stage. We have a difficult four months to go but we have made a hell of a start to life in the Premier League.”
Hull City (4-5-1): McGregor; Chester (Fryatt, 77), Bruce, Davies, Figueroa; Elmohamady, Livermore, Huddlestone, Meyler (Koren, 67), Boyd (Quinn, 83); Sagbo.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech; Azpilicueta, Cahill, Terry, Cole; Ramires (Essien, 89), Luiz; Willian (Schürrle, 84), Oscar (Mikel, 69), Hazard; Torres.
Referee: Mark Clattenburg.
Man of the match: Hazard (Chelsea)
Match rating: 6/10
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