Chelsea slip into top gear as rivals begin to falter

Posted by Phil Lythell



Chelsea crowned a superb week with a comprehensive 3-0 win over Newcastle United on a blustery day at Stamford Bridge.

The three points gained has seen them climb to the summit of the Premier League, and taking into consideration Monday's victory at Manchester City, it is a place where the Blues look as though they firmly belong. It helps, of course, when you can call upon the services of the most in-form -- and perhaps even the best -- player in the division in Eden Hazard. The little Belgian was, as usual, the most impressive player on the pitch with his box of tricks overflowing with magic.

Cox: Three Things - Chelsea versus Newcastle

It is not easy to classify what type of player Hazard is because of his sheer abundance of talent, and he showcased his full array of skills against Newcastle. He held the ball up like an orthodox target man, he scorched around the outside of defenders like a winger, he dug himself out of tight spaces like an impish midfielder and he finished like a veteran striker. The Magpies defenders were so nervous every time he got the ball that they didn't know whether to get tight to him and risk getting left trailing in his wake, or if they should stand off him and gamble on him not making the most of the space in front of him. There were wrong on both counts.

Hazard's first goal arrived after he was given the freedom to cruise forward and pick out Branislav Ivanovic overlapping on his right. The bustling Serb returned the favour and the 23-year-old swept the ball past Tim Krul and into the far corner. The second was the product of a counter-attack prompted by Willian, but taken over by Hazard. This time the opposition defence tried to shut him down only for the little magician to slip a ball through to Samuel Eto'o, whose back-heeled lay off was played straight back into his path. Given Hazard's newfound ruthlessness in front of goal, the end result was inevitable and the net duly bulged.

His hat trick was completed from the penalty spot courtesy of Frank Lampard's generosity, the midfielder passing over his usual duties from 12 yards in favour of giving his younger teammate his deserved moment of glory. It capped off a perfect individual performance and made Hazard's ambition to be compared to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo all the more credible.

His was not the only stellar contribution for Chelsea, though. For the second time in the space of six days, Nemanja Matic showed just why the club decided to swallow their pride and buy him back for an enormous markup. He has slotted into the midfield as if he was born to play in the Premier League, marrying all the virtues necessary to succeed in English football. His imposing frame makes him not just a strong physical presence but also capable of reaching the ball from improbable distances. He covers the ground so quickly that whenever he might have been dispossessed by a Newcastle player, he was always able to retrieve the situation. What gives him an added dimension as a holding player are his surging runs with the ball and his ability to play the correct pass with near inch-perfect precision. After the City game, many were quick to liken him to Yaya Toure, though on the back of his display against Newcastle, it was his resemblance to that other midfield colossus, Patrick Vieira, that really stood out.

Further back, Gary Cahill continued his magnificent run of form with another consummate performance. Watching him blossom into a first-class centre-back has been one of the pleasures of the campaign to date, and his latest outing was all the more gratifying as it was done without his regular partner alongside him. John Terry missed his first league game of the season with a knock so the Champions League final pairing of Cahill and David Luiz was deployed with great effect. The Englishman took the senior role and his reading of the play was exemplary, reminiscent of the injured club captain. Newcastle had very little joy in central areas because of the excellence of Chelsea's centre-backs with their only openings coming as a result of Ivanovic being caught out of position at right-back.

It all added up to what was a glorified stroll in the park. Newcastle -- without the services of Yohan Cabaye, Cheick Tiote and Loic Remy -- never really had a sniff, and once the deadlock was broken, there was only ever going to be one winner. With Arsenal getting hammered at Liverpool and Manchester City firing blanks at lowly Norwich, it appears that Chelsea are slipping into top gear just as their rivals begin to falter. Long may it continue.

Follow Phil Lythell on Twitter @PhilLythell

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