Liverpool fooled by Hazard magic
THE sight of Eden Hazard blazing a trail, weaving his way beyond bamboozled opponents left struggling in his slipstream, was always supposed to define Chelsea’s campaign.
It many ways it still does. For player and club, it has been too little too late. Not for the first time in recent days Hazard played the role of party-pooper to perfection, leaving Liverpool frustrated where it had been Tottenham last week.
A mesmeric run and goal of individual excellence which hoodwinked four red-shirted rivals meant Jurgen Klopp’s hopes of playing continental football next season probably rested on his team winning the Europa League.
At least it did until Christian Benteke came to the rescue with an unjury-time equaliser after Asmir Begovic made a complete mess of Sheyi Ojo’s cross. Klopp, though, will hope this was simply an off-night from the side he is expected to entrust with lifting the trophy in Basle next Wednesday.
In their last home game of the season and Klopp’s 50th match in charge, Hazard, all nimble movement and darting bursts, did his best to be party pooper as he continued a streak that has seen all four of his Premier League goals come in the last four matches.
Chelsea roused themselves to derail Spurs’ title charge last week and the sight of John Obi Mikel up-ending Daniel Sturridge after just 17 seconds suggested they were seeking to extract another slither of pride from what has been an otherwise demoralising defence of their crown.
That it was more magic from Hazard that eked out reward in the 32nd minute merely inflamed the debate over where he was hiding for the first nine months of the campaign.
There appeared little danger when the Belgian picked the ball up a couple of yards from the touchline on Chelsea’s left, but what ensued was simply sumptuous.
Shrugging aside Adam Lallana, Hazard gathered speed, ghosting away from Roberto Firmino and James Milner and then, as Dejan Lovren approached, he picked his spot with a shot that nestled in the corner of the net.
Until then, the biggest statement had come from the Chelsea fans who held aloft a banner demanding suspended captain John Terry stays at Stamford Bridge although that now seems a forlorn prospect.
If they were not chanting Terry’s name, then they were entertaining themselves by goading Sturridge.
His efforts to silence the taunts had proved less than successful.
Lallana’s through ball after an hour offered Sturridge his clearest sighting of goal, but the on-rushing Begovic was equally to his shot..
It was not that Liverpool were particularly bad; simply that Hazard was exceptional.