Hazard sends Chelsea 10 points clear by clinching United win
Hazard is also likely to be collecting the country’s top individual honors this season
Eden Hazard propelled Chelsea closer to its first Premier League title in five years on Saturday by clinching a 1-0 victory over Manchester United that established a 10-point lead.
It hasn’t been a convincing title run-in - with Chelsea’s last five league wins coming by a single goal - but Jose Mourinho’s side has a commanding cushion with six games to go.
Hazard is also likely to be collecting the country’s top individual honors this season. The winger cemented his player-of-the-year credentials with another influential display at Stamford Bridge - and the only goal.
Hazard met Oscar’s back-heeled flick-on in the 38th minute and slotted the ball through goalkeeper David de Gea’s legs at the goalkeeper's near post.
An injury-depleted United was on top for much of the second half but could find no way past Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois as a six-game winning streak ended.
“They had the better possession,” Chelsea captain John Terry said. “We have not been playing as well as we can of late ... we were in our best form early on in the season and just before Christmas.”
Loius van Gaal’s United remains third and well-placed to capture one of the four Champions League qualification places.
De Gea had started celebrating inside five minutes of the game - wrongly believing Wayne Rooney had scored. When the United captain met Luke Shaw’s cutback from the left flank with a shot, it initially appeared to curl into the net but the ball in fact hit the sidenetting.
Paddy McNair, one of three injury-enforced changes from the United side that beat City in last weekend's Manchester derby, also came close with a shot that deflected off Terry.
As the game opened up, Chelsea began to push forward and scored from its first shot on target.
United striker Radamel Falcao, making his first start since February, was forced off the ball by Terry on the halfway line and Cesc Fabregas then released the ball to Oscar.
After holding up the ball, Oscar backheeled into the path of Hazard, who netted his 18th goal of the season.
Falcao was clearly agitated by Terry’s robust approach in the build-up to the opener and the tempers between them flared up again shortly after the goal. After tangling following a throw in, Falcao and Terry tussled on the floor but both escaped any action from referee Mike Dean.
Falcao was presented with a chance to level just before halftime, but he couldn’t get on the end of Ashley Young’s flick-on
Chelsea was in front despite missing injured strikers Diego Costa, its top scorer, and Loic Remy, giving Didier Drogba a second consecutive start up front.
The 37-year-old Ivorian has gone more than four months without a goal and only came close once to scoring on Saturday.
After meeting Nemanja Matic’s long ball, Drogba’s shot deflected off Smalling and looped over De Gea. It was going wide as Hazard raced to the far post but could only hit the goal frame from a tight angle.
It could have proved costly with McNair seeing a shot parried by Courtois, Rooney’s strike deflected wide and Falcao squandering an opening.
Left back Luke Shaw, who was putting in a strong performance on the left flank on his first appearance since early March, played in Falcao. But after sweeping past Kurt Zouma, Falcao went for goal and hit the outside of the post rather than crossing to Marouane Fellaini who was in space across the penalty area.
“When you can play at Chelsea as the dominant team, I am very happy,” Van Gaal said. “But I am very disappointed.”
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