If Chelsea are to seriously challenge for the Premier League title, Eden Hazard will be central to their chances.
While regarded as one of the League’s best players for years, Hazard hasn’t been consistent enough to be mentioned alongside the likes of Neymar and Messi.
After a fine World Cup campaign, the Belgian has started this season in the right manner, as Chelsea continued their perfect start under Maurizio Sarri to move top of the Premier League with a 4-1 win over Cardiff at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.
Victory moves Chelsea above Liverpool on goal difference at the top of the table, whilst Cardiff remain without a win on their return to the top flight.
Sarri becomes just the fourth manager to win his first five Premier League games, and, while there appeared plenty to frustrate the Italian as he bounced around on the touchline, the hosts had far too much quality for the visitors. Cardiff had picked up just two points in 0-0 draws with a man advantage against Newcastle and Huddersfield prior to their visit to the capital.
But they had already shown a threat from set-pieces when Bamba headed just wide from a corner before taking the lead.
Chelsea didn’t heed that warning as a well-worked Joe Ralls free-kick was headed across goal by Sean Morrison and bundled in at the back post by Bamba.
The hosts nearly hit back immediately and in some style as backheels from Pedro Rodriguez and Olivier Giroud sent Mateo Kovavic clear on goal, but the Croatian was denied his first Chelsea goal by a fine save from Neil Etheridge.
Chelsea’s left flank was a constant threat as Hazard dovetailed with the rampaging Marcos Alonso from left-back.
However, it was when Hazard moved momentarily to the right that the hosts levelled when he dummied a ball into the path of Giroud and then fired the Frenchman’s return pass low into the far corner.
Sarri hailed Alonso as arguably the world’s best left-back after the Spaniard was involved in both goals in a 2-0 win over Bournemouth last time out.
And Alonso started the move for Chelsea’s second as he played in Pedro and his cross was expertly steered by Giroud in Hazard’s path to score via a deflection.
Having got in front, Chelsea took their foot off the gas at the start of the second-half and could have been made to pay when Ralls and Bobby Reid shot just wide from the edge of the area.
Chelsea rebuffed interest from Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona for Hazard and Willian in the summer. And that resilience could yet field an unlikely title challenge after finishing 30 points adrift of Manchester City last season as they took the game away from Cardiff in the final 10 minutes.
Chelsea finally had breathing space when Willian was felled inside the area by Bamba and Hazard sent Etheridge the wrong way from the penalty spot.
Moments later Willian produced his own moment of magic with a wonderful curling effort from 20 yards that bent into the top corner.
© Agence France-Presse (additional edits from Chris Kelleher)