Hazard, Higuain star as Chelsea stick five past Huddersfield
Chelsea responded with vigor to manager Maurizio Sarri’s criticism by shredding bottom placed Huddersfield in a 5-0 victory to climb above Arsenal into the top four. Much more valuable than the three points, what came through was Chelsea, despite hogging the ball, finally found their long-lost rhythm.
Maurizio Sarri "rotates"
Promising to stick to his usual 4-3-3 formation, Sarri made as many as four changes to his playing eleven, with Christensen handed only his second league start of the season.
Rusty early on, the Blues let their opponents find the initial momentum as Kepa flapped at a couple of Lowe crosses. Aaron Mooy headed narrowly over the bar from a free-kick with 7 minutes on the clock, but sadly and surprisingly, that was the closest they were to come in the entire 90 minutes.
It didn’t take much time for the momentum to shift Chelsea's way as Eden Hazard looked his usual self, pulling out a couple of exquisite flicks within the first quarter of an hour. Higuain would come close to scoring from Jorginho’s inviting ball over his shoulders. Finally, Kante’s immaculately weighted reverse ball found the Argentine, who beat the offside trap, with the angle horribly tight, and spat away a shot which ripped high inside Lossl’s near-post with the goalkeeper pawing at fresh air.
By this evidence, Chelsea can take more criticism than many people anticipated. Almost all the holes were plugged as the hosts were slick in their passing and movement, calm in possession and didn’t quite let their opponents come out of first gear. They operated with a lot of width and incision, thus streaming forward with menace. Huddersfield’s defending was made to look flimsy by the excellence of Eden Hazard, workaholic Willian, and a composed midfield.
Skipper leading from the front and Huddersfield woes
After a tough couple of weeks, Chelsea delivered a rounded performance. Azpilicueta was bossing the entire right flank and his scuttling energy was a treat to the eyes. Not only did he successfully negate the threats of Lowe and Kachunga, but also regularly scurried upfield to provide the key passes.
The second goal was a case in point. The skipper, with the ball at his feet, decided to go all the way but was tripped by Kachunga which, the replays later showed, was just outside the box. Paul Tierney, however, pointed to the spot and Eden Hazard scored a much-deserved goal on the cusp of halftime.
The visitors, with just one point from 11 matches, tried hard to make a game out of it. Diakhaby often looked like Huddersfield’s best hope, regularly driving at the Chelsea backline and with Alonso always too high upfield, left Luiz and Christensen looking far too timid. But, the second goal seemingly deflated their spirit. Coupled with it, they were also forced into an early substitution owing to Mbenza’s premature ending due to injury.
Kante proves Sarri right
Despite their last season's top goal-scorer Steve Mounie coming on, Chelsea looked determined to dictate terms and take the game to the opposition. Since the past couple of weeks, a lot of criticism has been hurled at Sarri for deploying N’Golo Kante in an advanced role. Kante himself put those to bed by creating two of the goals while also frequently dropping deep and robbing his counterparts off possession.
Chelsea today, looked like a side beautifully synced, hunting in packs as they sought to make up for the recent string of low performances. The visitors fell prey to Chelsea’s intense, often wild pressure and the players while in possession always found themselves squared up by two others in blue.
Ross Barkley, starting for the 8th time this season, pulled the strings in midfield. Patrolling all over the pitch, he couldn’t convert a couple of half-chances, but provided the assist that killed Huddersfield off. The Englishman cued Hazard up, who comfortably went round the keeper and finished with his weaker left, eluding the back-tracking centre-backs.
Higuain grabs the headlines
Gonzalo Higuain, despite becoming the first Chelsea player since Mario Stanic to score a brace on his home league debut, was blowing hot and cold. There were instances when he looked in his pomp, playing effortless football, and then there were others when he would be unable to pick any of his teammates and his passes went strangely astray. But the manner in which he found the top right corner from 30 yards out, aided by a slight deflection off Kongolo, was a sign of things to come in this upcoming crucial month for Chelsea.
Chelsea back on track
A defeat was inconceivable. And, this victory against the division’s whipping boys would hardly prove Chelsea have turned a corner. But, their hierarchy and fans alike would surely be happy to see their side open up gaps and create opportunities at will, as they scored five goals in a league match for the first time in more than a year. Huddersfield, on the other hand, need to piece together what is going so badly wrong for them and have a mountain to climb if they are to steer clear of relegation.
Man of the match - Eden Hazard
Playing on the left, Eden Hazard was in his strongest position, eluding opponents, cutting infield and making it his business to get into the penalty area. He was rampaging at will, running through a wonderful repertoire of defender-spinning swivels, dexterous ball manipulations and delicate touches. His combination play with Higuain, in particular, was the camaraderie which augurs well for Chelsea now, considering the tough run of matches coming their way.