LONDON: Eden Hazard is looking, more than ever, like a “new Gianfranco Zola” after having a hand in two of the goals with which Chelsea beat promoted Reading 4-2 at Stamford Bridge.
The game was moved forward in Chelsea’s fixtures shuffle because they face Atletico de Madrid in the European Supercup in Monaco on Friday of next week.
Of course Zola remains, nine years after leaving Stamford Bridge, one of the most popular figures in Chelsea’s modern history. But the young Belgian has needed only two Premier League games to prompt comparisons – even though manager Roberto Di Matteo has insisted it is too soon to rush the issue.
Hazard started his Engish career brilliantly before being substituted little more than an hour into Chelsea’s 2-0 win at Wigan Athletic. The, as this time, he had a hand in the two goals which they scored within the first six minutes and was not surprised, after having cost £32m from Lille, to receive some physically rugged treatment.
Di Matteo is not worried by that, saying: “He will be fine. He has enough qualities to get away from people but it’s also good he got used to it quickly because that’s how it’s going to be. He’s a strong man, a strong boy. He’s strongly built as well. We spoke, during pre-season, about the Premier League. He knows how to handle himself.”
Hazard, if he follows through, can win more at Chelsea than Zola ever did: it was Zola’s ill fortune that his Chelsea ended on virtually he same day as the club was bought by Roman Abramovich – after which, of course, so much changed.
Abramovich appears to have recovered his appetite for big spending and there will probably be more new men inside the next week. Napoli’s Uruguayan Edinson Cavani is one possibility though he has also been linked with Manchester City.
At £35m he would cost even more than Hazard and take Chelsea’s summer spending in defence of their European crown – and in defiance of financial fair play concerns – to nearly £100m.
However, it was Chelsea’s defence which looked in more need of extra support as they conceded two goals in four minutes midway through the first half – to Progrebnyak and Guthrie – to trail Reading 2:1 at half-time. Frank Lampard had put Chelsea ahead from an early penalty but it took a mistake by keeper Adam Federici to gift Gary Cahill a 69th-minute equaliser.
Twelve minutes more and Chelsea were ahead and in command with Fernando matching Lampard in scoring a second goal of the season. He was fortunate; TV replays showed he should have been flagged offside. Then Hazard, who had been fouled for the Lampard penalty, created a decisive fourth goal for Brane Ivanovic in stoppage time.
Even the best teams need a little luck. Chelsea have perfected the art.