Conte admits relief as Hazard inspires gloom-lifting victory

Chelsea boss Antonio Conte expressed his relief after Eden Hazard turned on the style and inspired the defending Premier League champions to a gloom-lifting victory over bottom-of-the-table West Brom.

Hazard netted twice, either side of a Victor Moses strike, as Chelsea recovered from back-to-back thrashings by Bournemouth and Watford and regained fourth place from Tottenham. A third straight defeat left West Brom seven points adrift of safety.

Conte has cut a disenchanted figure in recent weeks as speculation and pressure regarding his job security has mounted in equal measure amid internal wranglings over transfer policy, not aided by their slump in form.

“Tonight was very important for us to get three points and win the game, especially for confidence,” said Conte, whose side face Hull City on Friday in the FA Cup fifth round before showdowns with Barcelona in the Champions League and Manchester United.

“When you lose two games in a bad way the confidence goes down. It was important for the players to have a couple of days rest and tonight is a good win.

“My players know very well what our work is and what we have to do. For sure, we are going to try to fight against this speculation.”

Hazard, who took his season’s tally to 15, was more unequivocal. He said: “We are back, we are Chelsea and we are the champions. We need to give everything to reach our target and the target when you play for Chelsea is to win trophies.”

West Brom suffered a sizeable blow after only four minutes when injury-prone striker Daniel Sturridge, who joined on loan from Liverpool in January, limped off with a hamstring problem.

Sturridge’s replacement Jay Rodriguez then wasted a glorious chance as he blazed wide having opted to shoot early despite having time and space.

Wing-back Davide Zappacosta and home debutant Olivier Giroud were both thwarted by West Brom goalkeeper Ben Foster before a foraging Hazard exchanged passes with the latter and lashed home clinically on 25 minutes.

Chelsea stopper Thibaut Courtois denied Salomon Rondon after the burly frontman had bullied centre-half Andreas Christensen shortly before the hour mark, while skipper Jonny Evans headed narrowly over from the resulting corner.

The Blues all but settled matters on 63 minutes when a cheeky Cesc Fabregas flick fortuitously acted as a return pass to Moses who fired past Foster, while Hazard arrowed a thunderous left-footed drive into the net from the corner of the penalty area to round off the scoring.

Original Article

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