Eden Hazard's guile proves too much for resilient Queens Park Rangers
Chelsea 2 Queens Park Rangers 1
It seems Chelsea have developed a taste for drama of late.
The clock was cruelly winding down. Jose Mourinho exuded exasperation on the touchline. Harry Redknapp was conversing with his Queens Park Rangers assistants on how to keep this going, how to frustrate Premier League leaders Chelsea into dropping their first point at Stamford Bridge.
QPR had managed to stem Chelsea's flow and verve, equalising through Charlie Austin. Oscar had put Chelsea ahead in the 32nd minute with a goal of incredible technique but Stamford Bridge knew a solitary point was hardly sufficient.
This procession was becoming a drama.
But then it all unravelled.
There will be discussions whether the challenge was required, neccesary to thwart the threat posed by Eden Hazard’s guile, but it was certainly ponderous and ill-advised from Eduardo Vargas, the Chilean who should have been asserting his genius at the other end of the pitch. Leaning into Hazard’s back with his shoulder, referee Mike Jones was unflinching as the 75 minute mark rapidly approach.
Composure? It is, after all, Hazard’s trademark. Perhaps it is why Mourinho was so dismayed at Didier Drogba assuming the responsibility against NK Maribor in the Champions League. Hazard is Chelsea’s designated penalty-taker, and for good reason, ambling up to the spot and cruelly bewildering a static Rob Green, QPR’s keeper.
QPR threatened Chelsea, posing a concern to their 100% home record and possibly even their unbeaten streak, but Chelsea’s quality ultimately proved supreme. They struggled to contain Hazard, the Belgian effervescent as he wreaked havoc into the QPR resistance. Cesc Fabregas excelled yet again, his mercurial brilliance resulting in a superb assist for Oscar’s opener, the Brazilian also impressing for Chelsea.
Redknapp, though, can take heart from his side’s commendable resilience but he knows he needs to start taking the points too.
As confirmed by Mourinho on Friday at Cobham, Costa was sufficiently fit to start, the Spaniard deployed at the tip of Chelsea's 4-2-3-1 formation. Costa was immediately effervescent, eagerly pressing Steven Caulker and Richard Dunne.
Willian, Oscar, Hazard and Fabregas were interchanging positions and causing QPR problems, Oscar's low shot driven narrowly wide. Chelsea continued to threaten. Ivanovic almost converted Willian's enticing cross. Costa was marginally deemed offside as he sped in behind Dunne and Caulker.
QPR, though, broke dangerously, Austin's header from Hoilett's searching cross landing above crossbar.
QPR were compact and organised, limiting the space available for Chelsea to assert their supreme quality. Hazard, shimmering with skill, teased Sandro before yet another Chelsea move collapsed.
Yet again, QPR proved they could concern Chelsea, Leroy Fer leading a quick break which was ultimately thwarted by Cahill.
An end-to-end spectacle was unfolding before the 41, 837 packed into a glorious Stamford Bridge, Green thwarting Fabregas's drive from range.
But there are moments in sport when sheer genius simply cannot be denied. This was magical from Oscar, the Brazilian artfully gathering Fabregas's cue to shoot and driving the ball powerfully into the top left corner with the outside of the boot.
But as much credit must be directed at Fabregas, the architect of Chelsea's opener once again. The Spanish maestro has contributed to nine goals in nine Premier League games, vindicating Mourinho's faith. Pouncing onto Costa's lay-off, Fabregas sped beyond Caulker and Suk-Young with purpose and fed Oscar, whose finish was complimentary.
Chelsea went for the jugular. Costa received Fabregas's through pass and aimed a powerful shot towards goal blocked by Dunne. Willian's tame effort was comfortably thwarted by Green.
QPR showed signs of menace after the break but Chelsea threatened to double their ascendancy. Hazard broke forward and fed the advancing Willian, whose enticing cross across Green was almost converted by Hazard.
Filipe Luis, standing in for the suspended César Azpilicueta, assumed a buccaneering role on the left channel, offering a menacing attacking outlet for Chelsea and firing wildly into the Matthew Harding Stand.
As the hour mark approached, Redknapp enriched QPR's attacking options, Zamora replacing Hoilett. His move was soon vindicated. Courtois punched away Isla's powerful strike which fell invitingly to Fer. The Dutchman's effort was tame, devoid of conviction and power, but Austin profited pragmatically, producing a deft flick which wrong-footed Courtois.
Austin is thriving in the top-flight, involved in six of QPR's ten Premier League goals this season. A nomad in England’s lower divisions? A hit in the top-flight.
Mourinho reacted without hesitation, sacrificing Willian as Didier Drogba appeared on the scene. Chelsea were momentarily stunned, Sandro's drive drifting narrowly wide.
Oscar broke dangerously and fed Hazard. The Belgian was poleaxed by the disinclined Caulker with Green acrobatically thwarting Oscar from the subsequent free-kick.
Chelsea, however, would not be denied. Vargas was deemed to have used excessive force on Hazard and the Belgian coolly converted the subsequent penalty.
28 games remain for Chelsea but Mourinho has the Premier League where he wants it – Mourinho’s teams rarely ever relinquish such a march on their most menacing of rivals.