HAZARD STRUCK TWICE AGAINST ROCK-BOTTOM WEST BROM TO END THE BLUES’ MINI-SLUMP AND LEAVE UNDER-FIRE ANTONIO CONTE CELEBRATING WILDLY AGAIN.
Normal service was resumed for Chelsea and Antonio Conte thanks to brilliant Belgian Eden Hazard.
Hazard struck twice against rock-bottom West Brom to end the Blues’ mini-slump and leave Conte celebrating wildly again.
Conte has cut a downbeat figure in recent weeks and back-to-back heavy defeats against Bournemouth and Watford have darkened his mood.
But it was the animated Conte of old in the Stamford Bridge dugout last night as he watched his side bag a win that lifted them back above Tottenham up to fourth.
Hazard slid Chelsea into a 25 minute lead with a little help from £18m January signing Olivier Giroud on his full Chelsea debut.
Hazard played a one-two with Giroud before slamming the opener past Ben Foster.
Chelsea survived a second-half scare when Salomon Rondon went through on goal but blew the Baggies big chance as his effort was diverted behind by Thibaut Courtois.
And Chelsea made West Brom pay. Victor Moses made it 2-0 in the 63 minute after Cesc Fabregas’s pass deflected into his path of Craig Dawson and Conte turned to the crowd to salute the goal with a roar and double first-pump.
And Hazard grabbed his second in the 71 minute when he cut inside Jonny Evans and smashed the ball past a flat-footed Foster.
STRIKING DILEMMA OVER OLIVIER GIROUD AND ALVARO MORATA
Alvaro Morata was back on the bench after a speedy recovery from a back injury.
It might be a place he finds himself more than he would like in the rest of the season because Olivier Giroud impressed on his full Chelsea debut, producing a display that underlined he will be much more than just a Plan B for the Blues.
He led the line expertly and put himself about, occupying West Brom’s centre backs and giving Chelsea a target-man to play off, which he did perfectly when he teed up Eden Hazard’s goal with a deft lay-off.
The one area he really excels over Morata is his ability to handle the rough stuff. Giroud was in the wars against West Brom, taking a kick to the head which needed bandaging and then a hefty whack on the calf from Jonny Evans.
But unlike Morata, who likes a moan when the going gets tough, he kept coming back for more.
Typically, Giroud missed a few chances too but Morata has missed his fair share too.
The Frenchman’s display would have given both Morata and boss Antonio Conte, who was among those clapping Giroud when he came off after a whole-hearted 60-minute shift, food for thought.
CHELSEA FAITHFUL STILL BEHIND ANTONIO CONTE
He might lose games and it seems he will lose his job at the end of the season but the Chelsea faithful will be behind Antonio Conte until the bitter end.
The first chorus of “Antonio, Antonio” rang out after just a minute and chants in support of their boss continued throughout the win which lifted Chelsea back up to fourth.
While he my not have received the vote of confidence from the board that he was after he was grateful for the support of the crowd which he acknowledged whenever they sang his name.
STATS ARE NOT ALAN PARDEW’S FRIEND
Alan Pardew was aiming to become the first manager in the Premier League era to win at Stamford Bridge with three different teams.
But it is another stat that should have been occupying his mind.
Pardew had won just seven of his previous 48 league games – at Crystal Palace and now West Brom – going into last night. Make that 49.
West Brom are seven points off safety with 11 games to go and have won just three games all season. Pardew will have to improve that winning ratio rapidly to keep West Brom up.
VICTIMS OF VICARAGE ROAD PAY PRICE
Gary Cahill and David Luiz paid their price for their part in Chelsea’s horror show at Watford last week.
Both were dropped, Cahill to the bench and Luiz from the squad entirely.
And that double decision along with Andreas Christensen’s instant return underlines the Dane’s growing importance to Chelsea.
Despite being the least experienced of Chelsea’s out and out central defenders cool customer Christensen has emerged as the most important and one Conte has most faith in.
DANIEL STURRIDGE CURSE STRIKES AGAIN
New club but same story for the luckless Daniel Sturridge.
The striker, on loan at West Brom from Liverpool, has been plagued by injury and it was hoped by all concerned that a fresh start may lead to a change of fortune.
But he lasted just three minutes against his old club Chelsea before he limped off.
It was cruel for so many reasons, not least the fact that he is hoping to revive his England career and Three Lions boss Gareth Southgate was among those in the Stamford Bridge crowd.