Yet while the scoreline had the look of a rout, the reality was that this was not the performance of title contenders. Chelsea had strained to overcome a tough challenge from Cardiff City, who had dared to dream after Sol Bamba’s early goal, and it had not always seemed certain that they would maintain their impeccable start to the season.
By the time Willian bent his magnificent shot high to Neil Etheridge’s left, it had all started to feel straightforward for Chelsea. At first glance, they had done a fine job of undermining Maurizio Sarri’s pleas for patience once again. Eden Hazard had scored an irrepressible hat-trick, the sun was shining on Stamford Bridge and Chelsea were on their way to joining Liverpool at the top of the Premier League table.
There was daylight between the sides at the end, but Chelsea was far from flawless in the pursuit of their fifth consecutive win and they offered plenty of reminders as to why Sarri has refused to get carried away.
After all, it was threatening to turn into an awkward afternoon for Chelsea before Hazard turned the game on its head with an electrifying seven-minute burst at the end of the first half. Cardiff adopted a direct approach, surprising their illustrious hosts with the intensity of their high press, and Neil Warnock’s side were eager to discover why Sarri still has concerns about his side’s defending.
The big men went forward from the back when David Luiz needlessly steamed into Danny Ward in the 16th minute and Chelsea were vulnerable when Joe Ralls pumped a deep free-kick towards the far post, where Marcos Alonso was unable to prevent Sean Morrison from heading back across goal. The ball drifted into the six-yard box and Bamba, who had threatened from another set piece moments earlier, punished slack marking from Jorginho by volleying past Kepa Arrizabalaga from close range.
The hosts sought an instant response and Etheridge, a former Chelsea youth player, denied Mateo Kovacic with two fine stops. Pedro also curled a shot inches wide from 18 yards and blazed a clearer chance over the bar, deepening Chelsea’s growing frustration. Cardiff were defending with impressive discipline, with Bamba and Morrison an imposing partnership in central defence and the visitors were looking increasingly comfortable as the interval approached.
Over to Eden, then. Cardiff had devoted extra attention to Chelsea’s main man and they coped with him admirably for long spells, with Bruno Ecuele Manga and Victor Camarasa working hard to smother the Belgian whenever he tried to dribble down the left. Yet players of Hazard’s stature tend to find a way through sooner rather than later. His challenge was to find Cardiff’s weak point and he solved the problem by drifting inside in the 37th minute, bringing him into direct confrontation with the isolated Joe Bennett.
Cardiff had been caught out by the switch and Hazard beat Bennett with ease, swerving to the left-back’s right before firing a low shot past Etheridge from 20 yards. Chelsea’s relief was immense and it was not long before they led, Giroud steering Pedro’s cross to Hazard, who smuggled a stabbed shot underneath the luckless Etheridge.
Cardiff could consider themselves unfortunate to be behind and they refused to stop hunting for their first victory since winning promotion from the Championship last season. Warnock’s men deserved credit for ensuring that Chelsea could never relax and Bobby Reid held his head in his hands after slithering a shot inches wide in the 67th minute.
Yet Cardiff’s heart was no match for Chelsea’s extra class. Sarri had the luxury of bringing Willian off the bench midway through the second half and the Brazilian would have a telling impact, surging into the area in the 80th minute and winning a penalty after tumbling over Bamba’s desperate lunge.
Jorginho generously gave the ball to Hazard, who completed his hat-trick by sending Etheridge the wrong way from the spot, and there was still time for Willian to rub salt into Cardiff’s wounds.
Source: The Guardian