Neil Humphreys: Hazard for ALL Footballer of the Year titles
Hazard must win all Footballer of the Year honours
CHELSEA 1 (Eden Hazard 38)
MAN UNITED 0
Eden Hazard will now win a personal treble this season.
The inevitable English Premier League medal should sit snugly beside the Footballer of the Year trophies from both the Professional Footballers' Association and the Football Writers' Association.
The Chelsea winger's decisive goal and peerless performance against Manchester United yesterday morning (Singapore time) confirmed his coronation.
Jose Mourinho said it best in the post-match interview. He doesn't care if his opponents have 99 per cent possession. He still expects victory.
He has Hazard.
The Belgian is built for speed, but boasts the stamina of an Ethiopian marathoner. His Footballer of the Year rivals have all tumbled at some point, but Chelsea's bearded wonder won't quit.
Arsenal's Santi Cazorla and Alexis Sanchez, Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho, United's David de Gea and Tottenham's Harry Kane have all shone, but there were cloudy, frosty spells.
In Hazard's dressing room, he's had a few colleagues all channelling their best Marlon Brando. They had class. They could've been contenders.
Diego Costa's initial EPL performances looked like scenes from the Running of the Bulls. He didn't beat opponents. He ran them over.
He was usually chasing a pass from Cesc Fabregas, who found people faster than a private detective, while Nemanja Matic ran the rearguard.
By Christmas, the Serb's name was as good as inscribed on the Footballer of the Year trophies.
But the trio faded. Injuries and suspensions curtailed their progress and disrupted their rhythms. Chelsea's creative department was perilously close to shutting down.
With batteries in need of recharging, the impish Duracell Bunny kept on going.
The Blues were once accused of having a PlayStation footballer controlled by an erratic 10-year-old. Now they have the real deal.
But Hazard is no David Luiz. He's not a clown, but an emerging colossus. He's always on screen, always in shot, chasing lost causes and patrolling the left side from front to back.
The 24-year-old has made void-deck football a Premier League reality. He dominated Stamford Bridge like kids messing around on the HDB concrete.
He was everyman, in defence and attack, beginning moves and finishing them. The United game was his season in microcosm. While others faltered, he sustained his form with little fanfare.
He is rarely overwhelmed by the occasion. Big games bring out the best in him.
Back in January, he scampered through the space left by Manchester City and hit a superb volleyed cross, on the run, to present Loic Remy with a simple tap-in. The 1-1 draw maintained the five-point gap at the summit.
Against Arsenal in October, Hazard earned and scored the penalty that knocked the wind out of the Gunners' billowing sails.
Branislav Ivanovic might have headed in the extra-time winner in the League Cup semi-final against Liverpool, but Hazard won the free-kick.
In those close contests, the Belgian was an integral part of an aggressive, counter-attacking collective. Now he's carrying the Blues home.
His strike against United was his fifth goal in his last seven games. Four of those came in contests decided by a single goal. Hazard may not be entirely winning matches on his own. But Chelsea would be lost without him.
He's overcompensating for Costa and Remy's injuries and Fabregas' alarming inconsistency.
At Stamford Bridge yesterday, Didier Drogba's ageing body was weak, but Hazard's legs were still willing.
Apart from his winner, he flicked a karate kick onto the post, doubled up to support Cesar Azpilicueta and humiliated Wayne Rooney not once, but twice.
Hazard pulled away from his man gracefully, effortlessly. Rooney looked like he was pulling a tugboat.
The Belgian also gives his manager something close to immunity from public persecution.
Mourinho emphasised the importance of strategy and result over all other idealistic considerations. Others can have the plaudits and the possession stats. Mourinho focuses only on strategy and result.
Hazard gives him both. He nips away at a winger's ankles like a Jack Russell terrier and then spins away from his markers like Billy Elliot.
The dour, defensive elements of Chelsea's game remain, but Mourinho can still have his Belgian cake and eat it.
He gets the best of both worlds with Hazard, who is quietly being moulded into the complete Mourinho footballer - always creative, always in control.
His artistry is functional. It serves the manager's strategy. It's rarely indulgent.
Mourinho has little patience for magicians who dazzle brightly and disappear just as quickly.
Mavericks must come with more than a box of tricks. They must bring stamina.
And, in Hazard, Mourinho has found his marathon man.
"It is always good to win against United at Stamford Bridge. We are close to finishing the season and winning the trophy, but it is not finished - we have to win two or three more games. When you play in the EPL, it is very difficult, and you never know in football."
Scoring his 18th goal of the season, a new personal record:
"Every season, I try to beat the score from before. When the goal brings the three points, it’s always good. It was a good goal between the legs. I could’ve scored another one, but I hit the post."
LAST NIGHT’S RESULTS
- Man City 2 West Ham 0
- Newcastle 1 Tottenham 3
Terry: Title not in the bag
- PHOTO: REUTERS
Chelsea captain John Terry is adamant that there is still work to be done if they are to clinch the Premier League title.
Jose Mourinho's side moved 10 points clear at the top of the table, after Eden Hazard's goal was enough to beat Manchester United, meaning they require two wins from their last six matches to claim the league.
But, when asked if the title was already in the bag, Terry (above) was steadfast.
"No, I don't think so," he said.
"It was a massive win. We needed to win. It was a really tough game, but we got the three points.
"They had the better possession. We have not been playing as well as we can of late and we did that today.
"We are doing enough - we have done that all season. We were in our best form early on in the season and just before Christmas.
"We are still getting results and that's the mark of champions."
Next up are Arsenal, followed by struggling side Leicester.
"We'd rather get it done as soon as possible," he added.
"It would be nice get it done soon. Two more wins will be very nice."
Defender Gary Cahill hailed his side's discipline to absorb United's attacking moves and triumph on the counter.
"It sure was a battle," he said.
"There was a lot of defending to do. We scrapped it out.
"They had a lot of possession but, in a weird way, we've done a job on them. We soaked up the pressure time and time again, hit them on the break and scored, soaked some more up, hit them on the break and hit the crossbar.
"They had a few chances and they're going to because they're a very good team, but we're thrilled with the result. It's fantastic for us."
Terry also admitted that Chelsea were "relieved" after finding out that Wayne Rooney would be playing in midfield for United.
Injuries to Michael Carrick and Daley Blind forced Louis van Gaal to play Rooney in a deeper role behind Radamel Falcao, and Terry believes that the Dutchman's team selection played into Chelsea's hands.
"He's a world-class player, so we were relieved to see him in midfield," said Terry.
"He's a phenomenal player and such a threat in that role behind the striker, so to see him in midfield was good for us actually."
Rooney himself, however, feels that his side put in a strong performance despite the defeat.
"Our performance was excellent - we dominated from start to finish," he said.
"We created some good chances but, unfortunately, didn't take any of them. I felt that, if we got a goal, even with five minutes to go, we would have gone on to win.
"We can take great confidence from this result as I've rarely seen a team come to Stamford Bridge and dominate so much... all that was missing was a goal.
"On another day, we could have scored two or three goals, but it wasn't to be. We just have to move on." - Wire Services.