Chelsea 2 West Ham 0: Brilliant Hazard boosts Blues' top-four bid
An inspired Eden Hazard hit two splendid goals to lift Chelsea to a deserved 2-0 home win over West Ham and up to third in the Premier League.
The Belgium international slalomed past several players to score a brilliant opener midway through the first half and killed off the visitors' resistance in the 90th minute as Maurizio Sarri's men strengthened their aspirations of Champions League qualification.
Chelsea were especially captivating throughout the opening 45 minutes and now sit above Tottenham and Arsenal, though both teams have a game in hand.
The Blues' triumph served as a significant boost at the outset of a busy period that takes them to Slavia Prague for the first leg of their Europa League quarter-final tie on Thursday.
Sarri named Callum Hudson-Odoi in the starting line-up for the second game in succession, but it was star man Hazard who made the first, dazzling incision.
The attacker skipped past multiple challenges as he sliced through the heart of West Ham's defence and fired into the bottom-right corner in the 24th minute.
Gonzalo Higuain twice threatened to double the margin before the break, rattling the near post with one effort and forcing Ryan Fredericks into an important block with another.
The Hammers established more of a foothold after the interval. The fit-again Felipe Anderson tested Kepa Arrizabalaga before Aaron Cresswell thumped marginally wide as Chelsea's lead began to appear vulnerable.
One man stood a class above the rest, though, and an unmarked Hazard fittingly put the seal on his side's third consecutive victory, receiving substitute Ross Barkley's pass into the box and lashing an unerring finish across Lukasz Fabianski.
What does it mean? Chelsea poised to grasp Champions League qualification
Arsenal and Spurs will have opportunities to claw back Chelsea in the fight for places behind the top two, but the Blues should be confident of securing their return to Europe's top competition.
They are well placed domestically and in the Europa League, a situation that seemed unlikely during the darker days of Sarri's turbulent first season in charge.
Hazard still the star of Stamford Bridge
Reports that Real Madrid are set to step up their interest in Hazard have clearly done nothing to affect the 28-year-old's focus on the task at hand.
He was at his scintillating best in this match, pulling West Ham's defence from side to side and landing the knockout blows with typical class.
Ogbonna bamboozled at the back
Hazard's magical footwork made halting his progress for the opener a tricky task, yet Angelo Ogbonna - like several of his team-mates - should have done better.
The centre-back offered the meekest of attempts at impeding the forward's progress and was similarly unaware of the danger when the same man, left all alone in the penalty area, put the seal on the victory.
Key Opta Facts
- Chelsea are unbeaten in their last 13 home league meetings with West Ham (W9 D4) since a 3-2 loss in September 2002.
- West Ham have scored just one goal in their last seven away Premier League games (D1 L6), a Mark Noble penalty in a 1-1 draw at Crystal Palace.
- Hazard has been directly involved in more Premier League goals than any other player this season (16 goals, 12 assists).
- Ruben Loftus-Cheek has had a hand in four goals in his last three Premier League games for Chelsea (two goals, two assists), after a run of 11 appearances without a goal involvement in the competition.
Chelsea head to Anfield to take on Liverpool three days after their Europa League excursion, while West Ham - who have lost four of their last six matches - meet Manchester United at Old Trafford on Saturday.