'Chelsea back in the top-four race with victory over Liverpool'

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Olivier Giroud’s goal midway through the first half secured an important victory for Chelsea on a weekend which saw the race for Champions League football take yet another surprise turn.

6th May 2018

Tottenham’s defeat at West Brom means they no longer have any margin for error in their final two games as long as we manage to beat Huddersfield and Newcastle, while Liverpool face Brighton on the final day in a potentially sticky encounter as they have half an eye on the Champions League final.

Top-four hopes

One month ago, our prospects of finishing in the Champions League places looked bleak, having succumbed at home to Tottenham and drawn at home to West Ham, but four successive league wins have somewhat resurrected the possibility of dining at European football’s top table come August.

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It’s still unlikely but Tottenham’s propensity to falter at crucial moments and Liverpool’s priorities lying elsewhere provide a puncher's chance of usurping either of our rivals. 

On another day where Antonio Conte set us up to ‘suffer,’ Antonio Rudiger was particularly excellent up against Mohamed Salah.

The Egyptian has mesmerised with his pace and finishing ability throughout the campaign, but Rudiger marshalled the PFA Player of the Year with relative comfort, hardly giving Salah a sniff on his left foot. 

Although Sadio Mane troubled Cesar Azpilicueta at various moments, Rudiger excelled in his task at pocketing Liverpool’s main man, and the German is quickly becoming a cult hero with his high-octane, action-packed style of play.

While he can appear erratic, Rudiger wears his heart on his sleeve and was, without doubt, the best signing made in last summer’s awful transfer window. 

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Hazard has to stay

While Rudiger impressed in his defensive work, it was yet again Eden Hazard who provided the sparkle in a Chelsea team lacking flair.

A mesmeric dribble which led to a well-saved shot from Loris Karius was the highlight of the afternoon for Hazard’s strength, footwork and skill level. Regardless of whether we’re in the Champions League next season or not, it must be the number one priority of the club to secure Hazard to a long-term contract.

It’s incomprehensible to me that people could want our talismanic Belgian to be sold to free up funds to strengthen other areas of the squad, since Hazard is by far and away our most talented player.

If rumours of Maurizio Sarri becoming our new Head Coach are to be believed, we may finally be about to appoint someone with attacking intent, and it is necessary that Hazard stays to fulfil his role as the on-field leader of a team looking to implement a whole new playing philosophy to follow the previous appointments of more pragmatic coaches. 

Opportunity knocks

It’s now onto Wednesday night for Conte and his charges, with a match against Huddersfield preceding a final day trip to Newcastle. 

Huddersfield stood firm against champions Manchester City on Sunday, yet they still require another two points to mathematically secure survival, thus they arrive at Stamford Bridge with everything to play for.

With Tottenham hosting Newcastle on the same night, the potential to pressurise Tottenham with an early goal ourselves is an opportunity we should be keen to exploit.

Of Liverpool and Tottenham, it is our London rivals I would bank on slipping up to allow us into the top four, and it’s these hopes - plus the possibility of winning the FA Cup - that keep this campaign very much alive, which is a far more positive situation than I envisaged when 2-0 down to Southampton just three weeks ago. 

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