Eden Hazard dazzles again as super Chelsea underline title credentials
LONDON -- Three points on Chelsea 5-0 over Everton in the Premier League on Saturday evening.
1. Chelsea go top as title challenge clicks into gear
Chelsea went top of the table after thrashing Everton 5-0, but whether they have even reached top form is the frightening prospect for everyone else. This is a team that keeps getting better.
There has been a steady increase in each winning scoreline in this five-match winning run. Their past three home games in this spell? They were 3-0, 4-0 and now 5-0.
Antonio Conte's men were rampant, none more so than the resurgent Eden Hazard. He struck twice here, taking his tally to the season to seven from 11 games -- his best since arriving at Stamford Bridge in 2012. It took just 18 minutes to open the scoring, as he scored the type of goal that has become all too familiar. Hazard cut in from the wing and hit a low, bouncing shot around Maarten Stekelenburg. The floodgates then opened.
Within a minute, Marcos Alonso scored his first for Chelsea, screaming for Diego Costa to get out of the way so he could power the ball between the hapless Stekelenburg's legs. Costa grabbed his goal after 42 minutes, volleying in from Nemanja Matic's flick-on. The best was still to come. Hazard scored the finest goal of the game by exchanging supreme flicks with Pedro on 54 minutes, before honing in on goal to drill the ball past Stekelenburg. Pedro then ensured Conte had his biggest win so far, by tapping in from close range.
Everton couldn't get close to the hosts. This was an emphatic performance as well as an emphatic scoreline, and Ronald Koeman's side barely had an attack of note.
Everyone now must take note of Chelsea. They are not just challengers for a Champions League place again. They are potential champions.
2. Hazard supreme once again
Of the many impressive facets of Chelsea right now is how they completely dominate matches from start to finish.
The start is the key. That is why these matches have been made so easy. Chelsea have scored very early in all of them, giving them the perfect platform for near-perfect displays.
Against Leicester City, it took seven minutes. Against Manchester United, it was one. Against Southampton, it was six, and here it was 18. If that was a bit sluggish compared to the previous three, Chelsea wasted absolutely no time in getting the second.
There was one big difference between this win and those three. This wasn't really a case of Chelsea hitting the opposition on the break, as they did in most of those other recent matches -- particularly the victories over United and Southampton. Instead, they impressively built on their lead here and repeatedly took the game to Everton, thereby taking them apart.
The recent wins and good starts have allowed confidence to build in an even deeper sense. They're not just applying the tactics now, but flourishing in them. That is most clear with Hazard and Costa. They also lift Conte's tactics too, especially the Belgian. There have been times -- going back to his period at Juventus -- when Conte's high-intensity football can be too high-powered to allow poise, and then the odd game where it can appear a little blunt.
That is not going to happen with Hazard playing as lusciously as this. He's so incisive, interchanging with Costa and Pedro so gloriously.
3. Koeman gets it wrong
There is perhaps one thing that Koeman deserves some credit for on an utterly dismal evening for Everton. He did at least try something different to counter Conte's three at the back, by mirroring his counterpart's approach.
It was brave, risky -- and failed miserably. Koeman acknowledged that after 36 minutes with the score at 2-0, as he hauled off Bryan Oviedo for Kevin Mirallas. It must go down as one of the least effective substitutions he has ever made, as Chelsea continued their onslaught.
It didn't help that some of his best players were so lacking in impact. The most noteworthy mark any of them had on the game came when Seamus Coleman left Costa bleeding with one rough challenge early on. Stekelenburg's performance was also notable for its ineptitude.
Then there's Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian, 23, is one of the brightest and best young strikers in the world and has long been expected to eventually return to Chelsea, but he didn't justify his old club's continued interest here. In fact, his drought at Stamford Bridge continues. Lukaku hasn't scored there since going to Everton.
His wait goes on. So does the wait for someone to come up with something that rumbles Conte's system.
Miguel Delaney covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MiguelDelaney.