Hazard Lights Up the Bridge as Chelsea Oust Steaua in the Europa League
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It is on days like Thursday that Eden Hazard reminds Chelsea just why they paid €32 million for him last summer.
And why even a fee of that magnitude may prove a bargain in the long run.
Hazard starred for the Blues at Stamford Bridge, creating two of Chelsea’s goals and winning a penalty.
The 2012 Champions League winners beat visiting Steaua Bucharest 3-1 on the night and 3-2 on aggregate to go into the pot for Friday’s quarterfinal draw (7:40pm ET; 11:40am GMT) in Nyon, Switzerland.
Joined by Oscar and Juan Mata in a creative trio, Hazard delivered one of his best performances in a Chelsea shirt so far. He dragged his side into the last eight.
Despite a disappointing Champions League campaign that saw them exit at the Group Stage, Chelsea are still very much alive in both the Europa League and FA Cup.
They are still on pace to finish at least two places higher in the Premier League than they did last season. And based on what we saw on Thursday, you have to think Hazard would have a lot to do with any further success they have between now and the end of the season.
On paper, the Hazard-Oscar-Mata trident should strike fear into the hearts of opposition defenders. But so often this season they have either lacked cohesion as a group or have simply been kept apart.
On Thursday, however, the interim manager Rafael Benitez used them from the beginning, and the decision bore its first fruit shortly. Just after the hour-mark, Mata turned the ball into a goal following a delightful Ramires run.
With the match deadlocked at a goal apiece following Vlad Chiriches’ goal from a corner just before halftime, Hazard took the reins after the restart and drove his side to victory.
Displaying the sort of comfort on the ball and confident dribbling ability that made him such a highly-rated prospect during his time at Lille, the 22-year-old involved himself in almost every attacking move Chelsea mustered.
In the 58th minute, Hazard's possession drew the foul from Steaua right-back, Cornel Rapa, that led to the go-ahead goal.
Taking the free-kick himself, his perfectly-flighted ball found captain John Terry at the corner of the goal for an easy header.
The Belgian’s second assist came in the 71st minute when he delicately flicked a cross from the right into the path of Fernando Torres, who finished low and hard inside the far post with his left foot.
It was the sort of goal the Spaniard scored routinely during his time at Liverpool. However, since his well-documented struggles moving to London, it was always going to take a special bit of buildup for him to turn back the clock.
Hazard provided it.
Torres might have had a second goal when Hazard was brought down in the box by Steaua captain Alexandru Bourceanu, but a brace just wasn’t on the cards for him as his powerful drive clanged off the crossbar.
It didn’t matter in the end.
Chelsea may have made struggled to find their way in the Europa League—their performance in the Romanian capital last week was especially poor—but based on Thursday’s showing it seems they have found it.
And all it took was a demonstration of the natural quality they acquired when they bought Eden Hazard last May.
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