Every goal and stand-out performance by Chelsea winger Eden Hazard in the Premier League makes his insipid form of last season even more of a mystery.
The Belgium international took his tally for the season to five goals with the sixth-minute strike in a 2-0 victory at Southampton on Sunday. He’s scored in three straight league games and is back to being one of the most feared attackers in English soccer.
It’s hard to fathom that this is the same player who last season – as the reigning Player of the Year in England – didn’t score in the Premier League until April 23, the 34th game of Chelsea’s woeful title defense. After 10 games this season, he’s already netted more times than last season (4).
Hazard was one of the players whose form dipped sharply as Chelsea unraveled under then-coach Jose Mourinho. He was even dropped at times, perhaps lacking motivation and the appetite for being a hard-working winger in Mourinho’s rigid system.
He is rejuvenated under new Chelsea coach Antonio Conte, benefiting from being given a more central and attacking role which lessens the need for him to track back and defend.
Hazard had something of a swagger at St. Mary’s Stadium as he tormented Southampton, which is coached by Claude Puel – the man who gave the winger his professional debut in football at French club Lille in 2007.
Diego Costa scored the other goal as Chelsea won a fourth straight game to stay just a point behind a trio of teams atop the Premier League. Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool all won on Saturday.
In the other game Sunday, another Belgian stood out. Romelu Lukaku scored one goal and set up the other in Everton’s 2-0 win at home to West Ham.
SOUTHAMPTON 0, CHELSEA 2
It was a fourth straight clean sheet for Chelsea since Conte switched to a three-man defense, but the Italian has the team rolling at both ends of the field.
Hazard got in behind Steven Davis, reached the byline, cut inside the Southampton midfielder and slammed a fierce shot between Fraser Foster’s goals to put Chelsea ahead. It was another early goal by Chelsea after its opener inside a minute in the 4-0 win over Manchester United last weekend.
Costa added the second goal in the 55th by curling home a fine finish from 25 meters after picking up a lay-off from Hazard. Costa has eight goals this season, making him the top scorer in the Premier League. It was a first loss in six games for Southampton.
EVERTON 2, WEST HAM 0
Lukaku must wish he could play West Ham every week. The striker scored a close-range header in the 50th to set his team on its way to a 2-0 win over West Ham and a first Premier League victory in five games. It was Lukaku’s ninth game against West Ham for Everton _ and he has scored in every one of them.
Lukaku also was the provider for Everton’s second goal, sending a cross over for Ross Barkley to prod home at the back post in the 76th minute. Everton stayed five points off the leaders.
Birmingham and Aston Villa drew 1-1 in the game known in English soccer as the “Second City Derby.”
Steve Bruce was back at St. Andrew’s as the recently hired Villa manager, nine years after resigning as coach of Birmingham.