Eden Hazard again provided the spark of brilliance for Chelsea, making his late contribution an extraordinarily high scoring Gameweek.
The Belgian fired two goals to double his tally in home matches this season, moving to 11 overall and six in the last six Gameweeks.
Owned by a modest 8.1%, Hazard was captained by just over 119,000 Fantasy Premier League (FPL) managers. They went into Monday night’s clash desperate for him to produce in light of big returns from Sergio Aguero and Mohamed Salah and he duly obliged.
Olivier Giroud’s presence as the lone striker in Chelsea’s 3-4-2-1 proved significant. It was his lay-off that provided the assist for Hazard’s opener – a crisp strike into the bottom corner.
Giroud made his first start and lasted until 61 minutes until replaced by the fit-again Alvaro Morata.
Returning from a back injury far sooner than expected, the Spaniard provided the pass for Hazard’s second – a stunning finish from 20 yards.
Inevitably, Hazard went on to pick up the three bonus points – a seventh maximum of the season – to move to a total of 22.
Hazard has dropped in ownership in eight of the last nine Gameweeks, losing 419,000 managers over that period.
But even though he goes to Manchester United in Gameweek 28, with Manchester City to follow that, his current form and output makes it very difficult to dispose of his services.
The availability of Giroud and Morata are big factors, with Hazard looking far more menacing as a direct goal threat playing off a recognised striker.
It remains to be seen how that particularly pecking order forms, with Conte’s selection for Friday’s FA Cup tie with Hull City likely to offer clues. As it stands, it would be no surprise if Giroud remains in the starting XI.
Post-match, though, Conte’s thoughts on his strikers were mainly restricted to their lack of match sharpness:
“Morata missed one month with a pain in his back and I hope we’ve solved the situation.
For Giroud it’s the same, he’s coming from a muscular problem and for us it’s very important for him to go into our idea of football and understand the right positions, for example the first goal was a clear example of our idea.
Now it’s very important for him and Alvaro to play games, they need to find the best physical condition. Training is okay but games are better and more important.”
Alonso absent again
The night begun inauspiciously for Fantasy managers, with Marcos Alonso again missing out.
The wing-back was the most sold player heading into the Gameweek with 220,000 managers moving him out. However, there were still 1.3 million disappointed managers who were forced to turn to their bench to fill the void.
Alonso was sidelined with fatigue at Vicarage Road in Gameweek 26, but there were reports that the Spaniard had returned to training. However, Conte confirmed pre-match that he had suffered a twisted ankle in Saturday’s session.
With Chelsea’s next Gameweek action on Sunday February 25, Alonso should have the recovery time, and we will likely hear more on his situation in Conte’s press conference later this week.
In his absence, Davide Zappacosta lined up at left wing-back with Victor Moses on the right. It was the latter who produced on the night, scoring from a Cesc Fabregas deflected pass in between Hazard’s goals. It was Moses’ second goal in three starts.
He helped Chelsea keep their fourteenth clean sheet of the campaign, their seventh in ten Gameweeks. That provided a welcome reprieve for those still holding Andreas Christensen.
The Dane was again withdrawn early on 73 minutes, replaced by Gary Cahill, who dropped to the bench. But Christensen booked his clean sheet, a first since Gameweek 19 having missed out on shut-outs in Gameweeks 23 and 24 due to injuries that saw him depart short of the hour-mark.
Sturridge blow for Baggies
As for the Baggies, their plight remains perilous though their first-half performance will have given Alan Pardew some encouragement.
Daniel Sturridge’s injury after just two minutes is a major concern, particularly with Jay Rodriguez facing an FA charge that could see him suspended for a lengthy spell.
The Baggies boss is optimistic, though, that Sturridge’s latest injury setback will be a short one.
“We’re hoping it’s not too bad. We don’t think it’s a tear or anything. It might keep him out of the FA Cup (match against Southampton on Saturday), but he could be back in a couple of weeks.
In Fantasy terms, West Brom continue to offer slim pickings, though should they go out of the FA Cup to Southampton, their Gameweek 31 fixture with Bournemouth would make them a more attractive proposition.