Eden Hazard’s wonder goal sent Chelsea third in the Premier League as the Blues beat West Ham 2-0 at Stamford Bridge.
Hazard showed the Chelsea fans what they might be missing next year with a virtuoso opener and late second in the sort of display that could convince Real Madrid to meet Chelsea’s reported £100million asking price.
The 28-year-old’s current Chelsea deal expires next summer and Madrid are reported to be closing in on his signature, although not without matching the Stamford Bridge hierarchy’s valuation.
Hazard moved to 19 goals in all competitions as he eyes the 20 mark for the first time at Chelsea. His 16 league goals leave him top of the pile for combined finishes and assists, with 28.
By the time Hazard applied the finish to his stunning opener, he had ghosted past Declan Rice and Mark Noble, and flummoxed Fabian Balbuena, Angelo Ogbonna and Ryan Fredericks.
At the death, after Chelsea had wasted a succession of chances, up popped Hazard again, drilling home to seal the win.
Hazard’s masterful first strike not only lit up the match, it also kept Chelsea in the hunt for that all-important top-four finish.
Maurizio Sarri’s men moved two points ahead of fourth-placed Tottenham and three above Arsenal in fifth, albeit having played one more game than their Champions League qualification rivals.
From the moment Ogbonna was booked for taking out the marauding Hazard just eight minutes in, West Ham’s rearguard knew they were in for a night of looking over their shoulders.
Blind spots, weaknesses – Hazard sneaked into and scythed through all these and more in another mesmerising performance.
N’Golo Kante drilled over from 20 yards, then flicked inside for Cesar Azpilicueta, only for a heavy touch to deny the captain a shot on goal.
But then, appetisers cleared away, Hazard dished up the sumptuous main course.
Collecting the ball 10 yards inside the West Ham half, he proceeded to elude half of the Hammers’ outfield players before rolling home the finish for a goal to grace any stage.
— TEAMtalk (@TEAMtalk) April 8, 2019
Chelsea should have quickly had the chance to double their advantage, only to be denied what appeared a clear penalty when Marko Arnautovic barged Hazard off his feet.
Hazard’s magical night continued, the Belgium star outfoxing three defenders on the turn before whipping across a fine far-post ball to Callum Hudson-Odoi.
The England international saw a rasping shot blocked, while the 18-year-old later drew a smart near-post save from Lukasz Fabianski.
Gonzalo Higuain should then have scored at the death of the half, only for Fredericks to produce a timely block after the Argentinian’s neat chest control.
West Ham rallied after the break, Kepa Arrizabalaga saving well from Manuel Lanzini and then Felipe Anderson.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek undercooked a chip when through on goal before whipping wide from 20 yards amid the Blues’ riposte.
Aaron Cresswell drilled just wide after Antonion Rudiger’s tame header in another West Ham warning.
Ross Barkley could not reach Hudson-Odoi’s teasing cross, but still the Hammers pressed, Emerson Palmieri’s defensive header thwarting Arnautovic.
Olivier Giroud snatched at a chance too, but then Hazard again showed his team-mates how to finish, book-ending a night that had belonged to him from start to finish.
Higuain almost doubled Chelsea’s lead just three minutes later when Hazard played a terrific pass over the visiting defence for the striker and forced a save from Lukasz Fabianski and onto the near post from a tight angle.
Callum Hudson-Odoi, starting successive Premier League matches for the first time, found space on the right wing before sprinting past Ogbonna to force Fabianski to tip over the bar.
Chelsea almost doubled their lead from the resulting corner as the West Ham goalkeeper failed to deal with Hazard’s set-piece but Rudiger could not pounce on the loose ball.
And Higuain had a glorious chance to put the hosts 2-0 up two minutes before the break when he brought down Kante’s cross on his chest when six yards from goal, only to see his powerful volley somehow deflect wide from a superb Ryan Fredericks block.
Chelsea nearly extended their advantage inside three minutes of the restart when Hazard picked up the ball on the corner of the penalty area before firing a left-footed effort just wide of the far post.
West Ham almost levelled with their first meaningful attack of the match.
Anderson set Arnautovic free down the right wing before the Austria international cut the ball back for Manuel Lanzini, but he could only shoot straight at Kepa Arrizabalaga.
At the other end, Ruben Loftus-Cheek then broke into the West Ham penalty area but curled his effort into the hands of Fabianski before the midfielder fired high and wide with another chance moments later.
Aaron Cresswell narrowly fired a superb volley just wide of Kepa’s far post on the hour-mark when Anderson’s long ball was only half-cleared by Rudiger.
Hazard and Hudson-Odoi then got in each other’s way around 12 yards out at the other end as the game opened up.
Manuel Pellegrini’s side thought they were level with seven minutes remaining when a Robert Snodgrass cross found Arnautovic at the far post, with Emerson Palmieri inadvertently blocking just wide.
Olivier Giroud almost made a quick impact after replacing Higuain when he was played through but his finish was deflected by the legs of Fabianski and onto the top of the net.
Hazard wrapped the three points in the final minute, with a fine half-volley after Barkley picked out the forward at the far post.
Victory moved Chelsea above Arsenal and Manchester United into third place in the Premier League table.