Just six matches into Maurizio Sarri’s tenure as manager of Chelsea, and the Blues are sitting atop the table on goal difference after a 4-1 win over Cardiff City at Stamford Bridge.
Eden Hazard’s hat-trick helped guide Chelsea’s record to a perfect six wins from six matches, providing hope that this season won’t be a complete transition year for the Blues.
It wasn’t all fun and games, though. Despite the comfortable score line, Chelsea were made to work hard for this win, and until Hazard converted a penalty in the 80th minute of the match, there was still a sense that Cardiff might just get a point from the match.
Before the match, Neil Warnock promised that his side would take the match to their opponents, and he certainly stuck to his word.
From the first minute, Cardiff played with an intent to have a go at Chelsea. A direct style of football on the counter combined with a high pressing game saw the match start at a high tempo from each side, and Chelsea were finding it tough to come to grips with the start.
It wasn’t much of a surprise when Cardiff scored from a free kick after David Luiz took down Danny Ward just inside his own half after Ward had collected a long ball and was looking to start another counter.
From just inside the half-way line, Joe Ralls launched a long ball for Sean Morrison at the back post. Morrison outjumped Marcos Alonso and headed it back across goal where Sol Bamba volleyed it in after Chelsea’s defenders failed to track his run.
It was a dream start for Cardiff, but Chelsea almost equalised straight away.
Mateo Kovacic had a pair of chances just after the Cardiff goal. First, Kovacic latched on to a flick from Olivier Giroud and steamed through the right-hand channel to force Neil Etheridge to make a save to his right. Then Kovacic raced through on goal and Etheridge saved with his legs after Pedro and Giroud worked two quick passes to create space for the Croatian midfielder.
Chelsea had started to up the tempo, but a seven-minute spell sparked by the class of Hazard sent Chelsea into the dressing room at the half in much better spirits.
Hazard dummied a pass from Rudiger to Giroud on the edge of the area. Sprinting towards the penalty area, Hazard collected the return pass from Giroud, and darted past Joe Bennett before drilling the ball hard and low across goal and past Etheridge for Chelsea’s opener.
Seven minutes later, Pedro’s low cross was deflected into Hazard’s path by Giroud and Hazard’s shot deflected off the legs of Bamba and wrong-footed Etheridge to give Chelsea the lead.
Bobby Reid must have thought he gave Cardiff their equaliser in the second half when his low shot beat Kepa Arrizabalaga but just squirmed past the post.
But it would be Chelsea that struck the two decisive blows. Willian was introduced for Pedro, and one of his first actions was to win a penalty. Willian found space in behind the Cardiff defence, and as he was going away from goal, Bamba went to ground and brought down Willian for a clear penalty.
Only one player was ever going to take that penalty and up stepped Hazard, who calmly sent Etheridge the wrong way.
Willian would have the last say in the afternoon when Alonso’s pass clipped the heels of a Cardiff defender and fell kindly into his path. With one touch to steady the ball, Willian casually stroked a curled effort into the top corner to end Cardiff’s day at Stamford Bridge.