Hazard a bane than boon for Chelsea
Chelsea are better off without the disinterested Belgian
CRYSTAL PALACE 0
(Oscar 29, Willian 60, Diego Costa 66)
Often an astute judge of character, Guus Hiddink has been guilty of a rare error.
When ascertaining Eden Hazard's best position, he opted for the left wing as the role where Chelsea's serial under-performer this season will have the most galvanising effect.
But the Blues' one-time talisman is better suited to a more frosty climate, out in the cold rather than the rain-lashed surroundings he endured at Selhurst Park.
Accused of being among the "rats" that had failed Jose Mourinho, Hazard has been more brattish than brilliant for large parts of this season.
Barely a shadow of the man crowned Player of the Year, his cameo against Crystal Palace yesterday was not much better.
Even before injury prematurely saw off the Belgium international in the 16th minute, he had once again appeared bereft of interest in a 26th scoreless outing.
His forced withdrawal proved to be a blessing in disguise and offered Hiddink food for thought.
Self-preservation has often dictated Hazard's career over the past 12 months.
Real Madrid's supposed interest has sparked more desperation than flattery from the winger.
He may be better suited to the often cut-throat environment of the Santiago Bernabeu dressing room, where managers and players wage civil wars on a near-annual basis, but even that ship is in increasing danger of disembarking, had it not already.
As Chelsea kicked off 2016 with a victory, it became clear that Mourinho was only a fraction of the problem that had previously festered within the Stamford Bridge dressing room.
In the absence of Hazard, as much as their former manager, the Blues delivered the best performance of their post title-winning slump.
A solitary goal in the previous four English Premier League games on their travels now reads a more credible four from five.
As one player faces potential banishment, with Pedro Rodriguez excelling as his replacement, it was another who came in from the wilderness that redeemed Hiddink's previous indiscretion.
Jon Obi Mikel's return to the fold offered a stabilising influence that restored Chelsea's midfield steel.
Previously destined for the Stamford Bridge exit, the enforcer has found favour under his former manager as only one of three players remaining from his 2009 premiership.
That renewed faith breathed life into one who has been conspicuous by his presence in the previously invisible Cesc Fabregas.
But the Spaniard was not the only former Mourinho defendant back on song.
Diego Costa and Oscar's respective return to form since the Portuguese was given his marching orders last month has been little coincidence.
Neither has their upturn in fortunes since Hiddink returned to the Chelsea dugout.
His willingness to shift philosophy finally yielded a victory.
With three goals from just four shots on target, the Blues have become clinical again.
Now 12 points away from fourth spot (before this morning's match between Everton and Tottenham) and, with 18 games remaining, all is seemingly not lost for the deposed champions.
The same cannot be said for Hazard.
BY THE NUMBERS
Eden Hazard has now gone 2,289 minutes without a goal for Chelsea.
- CRYSTAL PALACE: Wayne Hennessey, Joel Ward, Scott Dann, Damien Delaney, Pape Souare, James McArthur, Mile Jedinak (Joe Ledley 67), Jason Puncheon, Wilfried Zaha, Lee Chung Yong (Jonny Williams 80), Fraizer Campbell (Marouane Chamakh 67)
- CHELSEA: Thibaut Courtois, Branislav Ivanovic, Kurt Zouma, John Terry, Cesar Azpilicueta, Cesc Fabregas, Jon Obi Mikel, Willian, Oscar (Nemanja Matic 88), Eden Hazard (Pedro Rodriguez 16), Diego Costa
Hazard sprained his leg, he has a little problem with a groin muscle. We will see more with an MRI scan tomorrow.
...OBI MIKEL STARTING
Mikel played very well, he’s the ideal player to bring balance to the team. He knows the game very well and how to cope.
do not go over the top. It’s the first win after a worrying period with two draws... As long as we play like we did today, I will be happy.