Chelsea eased the pressure on manager Antonio Conte with a comfortable win over West Bromwich Albion at Stamford Bridge.
Conte’s Chelsea future has been placed under the harshest spotlight following heavy losses to Bournemouth and Watford – but a victory that takes them back up to fourth in the Premier League will ease those concerns for now.
The Italian’s name was sung throughout by Chelsea’s fans in an obvious show of support, but Conte needed the brilliance of Eden Hazard to settle early uncertainty on the pitch and in the stands.
Hazard exchanged passes with Olivier Giroud before giving Chelsea a first-half lead and, after Victor Moses slid home a second after the break, sealed victory with a powerful drive past Ben Foster in the 71st minute.
The win took the Blues a point ahead of fifth-placed Tottenham.
West Brom, who are seven points from safety, were hampered by losing loan signing Daniel Sturridge to injury inside three minutes. Substitute Jay Rodriguez wasted an opportunity to put them ahead when clean through, and Salomon Rondon and Jonny Evans also missed chances with the game in the balance.
For Conte, however, it was a satisfying night and the pressure – temporarily at least – is off.
Conte feels Stamford Bridge’s love
Conte walked out to take his place in the technical area with his future as Chelsea manager shrouded in uncertainty.
The Italian insists he wants to see out the remainder of his contract – which runs until 2019 – and the club have not shown any inclination they want to bring his reign to an end just months after he won the Premier League in his first season.
Yet there is the assumption the clock is running down to the end of the season and the conclusion of Conte’s Chelsea career – perhaps even sooner had another poor result followed the heavy losses to Bournemouth and Watford.
This was a fixture with the capacity to be troublesome, but Conte got what he wanted – and so did Chelsea’s fans.
If supporter reaction can be used as an accurate measure, Conte retains huge backing among the fanbase.
His name echoed around Stamford Bridge inside the first minute, acknowledged politely by the Italian, and the noisy backing was repeated at regular intervals throughout a routine victory.
There was certainly no shortage of touchline commitment from Conte, urging his players with actions and words throughout, boiling over at a tackle from behind on Giroud from Evans and even finding time to give substitute Alvaro Morata some very boisterous advice.
But he will know he needs to keep winning, with an FA Cup fifth-round tie at home to Hull City, a Champions League last-16 meeting with Barcelona, and a visit to top-four rivals Manchester United to come.
And Chelsea fans will know owner Roman Abramovich does not make managerial decisions based on the popular vote, rather with a ruthless, hard-headed approach that has ensured continued success.
For now, though, the mood has lifted.
Hazard lifts Chelsea gloom
Conte needed his big players to turn up to release the pressure that has been building around him. He has no bigger player than Hazard – and how the Belgian delivered.
Chelsea started nervously but it was Hazard who broke the deadlock after 25 minutes to make life a lot easier for both his manager and the home fans.
It was the result of a slick exchange with Giroud, who held his position with strength and awareness to play Hazard’s pass perfectly back into his path for an emphatic finish.
Hazard was central to everything Chelsea did, and it was another moment of magic 19 minutes from time that ended any slim hope Albion had of mounting an unlikely recovery.
Baggies keeper Foster left a large gap towards his left-hand post but Hazard showed peerless technique and power to find it with unerring accuracy for Chelsea’s third.
On a satisfying night, Conte can also be pleased with the performance of Giroud, who not only assisted Hazard’s first goal but acted as a focal point for the Chelsea attack and showed signs of early promise in his link-up with the Belgian.
Sturridge sums up West Brom’s plight
Sturridge was West Brom’s high-profile January signing, designed to provide the goals and quality they need to stay up following his arrival on loan from Liverpool.
And yet, in a scene played out with miserable regularity throughout his career, the England international was gone within minutes, and into what could be a lengthy injury lay-off.
Sturridge was involved in his first action inside three minutes, a regulation chase and tussle for possession with Cesar Azpilicueta. The result was an ominous grimace and stumble before making his way forlornly down the tunnel.
It is the latest disappointing chapter in the tale of injuries that have hounded Sturridge in recent years, his golden season alongside Luis Suarez at Liverpool just a distant memory.
West Brom did not lack spirit, but when the big opportunities came they failed to take them, with Rodriguez and Rondon the major culprits when given clear sights of goal, and Evans heading a perfect chance wide from a corner.
Manager Alan Pardew might take some encouragement from what might have been – but he needs more than that to rescue what is becoming an increasingly desperate position.
More to follow.
- 27ChristensenSubstituted forCahillat 74′minutes
- 11PedroSubstituted forWillianat 80′minutes
- 10E Hazard
- 18GiroudSubstituted forMorataat 61′minutes
- 33Palmieri dos Santos
- 6EvansBooked at 45mins
- 3GibbsBooked at 49mins
- 18BarrySubstituted forYacobat 80′minutes
- 11BruntSubstituted forBurkeat 45′minutes
- 15SturridgeSubstituted forRodriguezat 4′minutes
- Lee Mason
- Shots on Target
Match ends, Chelsea 3, West Bromwich Albion 0.
Second Half ends, Chelsea 3, West Bromwich Albion 0.
Foul by Antonio Rüdiger (Chelsea).
Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Corner, Chelsea. Conceded by Grzegorz Krychowiak.
Corner, Chelsea. Conceded by Jonny Evans.
Cesc Fàbregas (Chelsea) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Claudio Yacob (West Bromwich Albion).
Foul by Álvaro Morata (Chelsea).
Craig Dawson (West Bromwich Albion) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Attempt missed. Victor Moses (Chelsea) right footed shot from the right side of the box misses to the left. Assisted by Álvaro Morata.
Substitution, Chelsea. Willian replaces Pedro.
Substitution, West Bromwich Albion. Claudio Yacob replaces Gareth Barry.
Corner, Chelsea. Conceded by Ben Foster.
Attempt saved. Álvaro Morata (Chelsea) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the top right corner. Assisted by Eden Hazard.
Corner, West Bromwich Albion. Conceded by César Azpilicueta.
Substitution, Chelsea. Gary Cahill replaces Andreas Christensen.
Goal! Chelsea 3, West Bromwich Albion 0. Eden Hazard (Chelsea) left footed shot from the right side of the box to the bottom right corner. Assisted by Álvaro Morata.
Foul by Andreas Christensen (Chelsea).
Jay Rodriguez (West Bromwich Albion) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Attempt saved. Victor Moses (Chelsea) left footed shot from the right side of the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Eden Hazard.
Attempt missed. Jay Rodriguez (West Bromwich Albion) header from the centre of the box misses to the left. Assisted by Matt Phillips with a cross.
Foul by N’Golo Kanté (Chelsea).
Gareth Barry (West Bromwich Albion) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Corner, West Bromwich Albion. Conceded by Antonio Rüdiger.
Goal! Chelsea 2, West Bromwich Albion 0. Victor Moses (Chelsea) left footed shot from the centre of the box to the centre of the goal.
Corner, Chelsea. Conceded by Jonny Evans.
Attempt blocked. Álvaro Morata (Chelsea) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Pedro.
Substitution, Chelsea. Álvaro Morata replaces Olivier Giroud.
Foul by Pedro (Chelsea).
Grzegorz Krychowiak (West Bromwich Albion) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Delay over. They are ready to continue.
Delay in match (Chelsea).
Attempt missed. Jonny Evans (West Bromwich Albion) header from the centre of the box is just a bit too high. Assisted by Matt Phillips with a cross following a corner.
Corner, West Bromwich Albion. Conceded by Thibaut Courtois.
Attempt saved. Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion) right footed shot from the right side of the box is saved in the bottom right corner.
Attempt missed. Victor Moses (Chelsea) right footed shot from the right side of the box is high and wide to the right. Assisted by Eden Hazard.
Offside, Chelsea. Davide Zappacosta tries a through ball, but Olivier Giroud is caught offside.
Eden Hazard (Chelsea) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Gareth Barry (West Bromwich Albion).