Match Report

Report: Chelsea 4 Cardiff City 1

An Eden Hazard hat-trick, combined with an excellent strike by Willian, extended our winning start to the season to five games as we came from behind to beat Cardiff City.

Despite enjoying the majority of possession throughout the match, there was a spell in the first half when it looked set to be a frustrating day at Stamford Bridge. The visitors found the lead against the run of play when Sol Bamba turned in a long free-kick from close range.

Two good saves from Cardiff goalkeeper Neil Etheridge and a couple of efforts from Pedro, in particular, which went agonisingly wide meant it was starting to look like the footballing Gods were against us.

Thankfully, Hazard and Olivier Giroud renewed their partnership in attack to great success, combining twice to give us the lead before the break.

We asserted our dominance more comprehensively in the second half, as Hazard completed his hat-trick from the penalty spot after Willian was fouled, before the Brazilian got on the score sheet himself with a fine effort from outside the box, to make it a comfortable end to the game.

Giroud was making his first start of the season as one of two changes made by Maurizio Sarri to the team which beat Bournemouth in our last match, before the international break.

The Frenchman slotted into the centre of the front three alongside Hazard and Pedro, the latter returning to the starting line-up for his 100th Premier League appearance, having come off the bench to open the scoring against the Cherries.

Behind them it was an unchanged team, with summer signings Mateo Kovacic and Jorginho continuing in a midfielder three alongside N'Golo Kante, while Antonio Rudiger and David Luiz were flanked by Spaniards Marcos Alonso and Cesar Azpilicueta, in front of Kepa Arrizabalaga.

The opening exchanges set the tone as Cardiff got numbers behind the ball. Chelsea enjoyed comfortable possession, the Welsh side attempting to find space on the break with high balls into centre-forward Danny Ward and Bobby Reid looking to pick up any flick ons.

However, it was Chelsea's more patient approach which came close to providing an early goal. Giroud leaped highest on the penalty spot to get his head on Cesar Azpilicueta's cross from the right, but his effort looped just over the bar.

Our number 18 went close again when slick work on the edge of our own box from Alonso and Kovacic released Hazard down the left wing. As he approached the penalty area, the Belgian played the charging Alonso in down the inside channel, whose low ball was turned narrowly wide by Giroud ahead of the near post.

In contrast, the visitors' biggest threat was coming from set-pieces, the formidable physical presence of Bamba causing problems at corners, but the centre-back mistimed his jump with one good chance 12 minutes in, meaning the Blues defenders could watch his effort bounce harmlessly wide.

Three minutes later Bamba got things right, though, giving Cardiff a surprise lead. A long free-kick to the back post was headed across goal by Sean Morrison and poked in by the stretching Ivorian from five yards.

That seemed to spur Chelsea into action, as first Hazard and then Kovacic were denied in quick succession by good saves from Etheridge, the Croatian after being played in by some lovely one-touch football by Pedro and Giroud.

The quick combinations around the edge of the Cardiff box were seeming to be too much for the visiting defenders to handle, this time a one-two between Hazard and Pedro nearly resulting in a clear sight of goal for Giroud, but he couldn't find space for a shot among a crowd of white shirts.

Next up to try their luck was Pedro, who was centimetres away from scoring a wonderful goal, but his curling left-footed shot from the corner of the penalty box went just wide of the far post. The Spaniard went close again not long after, although in more fortunate circumstances as his attempted cross from the left had Etheridge scrambling, but dropped just the wrong side of the crossbar.

Pedro was still looking the most likely to find an equaliser, with an excellent turn on the edge of the area leaving Harry Arter floundering, but his brilliant lob didn't drop fast enough despite seeming to have Etheridge well beaten. Those impressive efforts made it all the more surprising when he got well under the ball attempting a shot moments later, having been found in space in the area by Hazard's cut-back.

When the equaliser did arrive in the 36th minute, it came via Hazard, and had the Blues fans purring. The Belgian did brilliantly to leave Antonio Rudiger's drilled pass for Giroud behind him, spinning to get on the end of the Frenchman's first-time lay-off. A drop of the shoulder saw him jink past Joe Bennett with his own first touch, before sending a perfectly placed shot across goal and into the bottom corner to level the scores. It was the least Chelsea's increasing dominance deserved.

There was no let-up from the Blues, either, with Cardiff forced to retreat into two banks of four around their own penalty area, and Hazard struck again to put us in the lead before half-time.

A quickly taken free-kick caught Cardiff out and allowed Pedro to find space in the left channel. His low cross was turned into our number 10's path, again by Giroud, and the side-footed finish found its way through the crowd from close range, via a touch off Bamba.

Cardiff responded with a sudden flurry of corners, but this time we held strong and kept our one-goal advantage as we went in at the break.

Bluebirds boss Neil Warnock decided to change his approach at half-time, with Jazz Richards coming on for Arter, who had been in danger of receiving a booking after conceding a number of fouls in the first-half. That also saw them switching to a more attacking 4-3-3 formation, with Junior Hoilett joining Ward and Reid in attack.

Sarri made a change of his own almost immediately, although the way Kovacic limped off to be replaced by Ross Barkley suggested it was in response to a knock picked up in the first half the Croatian had failed to shake off, rather than a reaction to Cardiff's new shape.

It took six minutes of second-half action for the first sight of goal, and it fell to the away side's Joe Ralls. A headed clearance from a corner dropped invitingly in front of him, but his low drive was off target.

Meanwhile, Barkley was getting straight into the action, taking up a slightly more advanced position than Kovacic had in the first half. A neat interchange with Hazard and Pedro under pressure made space for Cesar Azpilicueta on the right, but his cross was deflected kindly straight to Etheridge.

Cardiff's change of formation didn't seem to have done them any good, as Chelsea really began to dominate possession, and Pedro went agonisingly close to finding the net twice more in the space of a couple of minutes. First a low effort from the edge of the box curled just wide following a barnstorming run up the field by Rudiger, and then he turned well in a tight space eight yards out, but his shot rolled across the face of goal before being tapped behind to safety by Morrison.

That was to be Pedro's final contribution, as he was replaced by Willian after 66 minutes, with the Spaniard likely to be feeling himself incredibly unfortunate to be leaving the pitch without a goal to his name.

With the game seemingly slipping away from them, Cardiff threw on another large physical centre-forward in the form of Callum Paterson, heralding a return to their 4-4-2 formation and direct approach from the first half.

With 10 minutes left, Willian ran on to a ball over the top, only to be brought down in the box by Bamba. There was only ever going to be one man to take the resulting penalty. In typically nerveless fashion, Hazard calmly sent the keeper the wrong way and placed the ball to the right of the goal to complete his hat-trick.

Willian soon had a goal himself, finding space on the corner of the box and leaving Etheridge powerless as his shot arrowed into the top corner.

As the celebrations for the Brazilian's goal died down, Hazard was replaced by Davide Zappacosta with his job done for the day.

Despite the early scare it turned out to be a fairly comfortable job to see out the game. The three-goal winning margin may not have told the whole story, but given our dominant performance for much of the game there was no question we deserved it.

Chelsea (4-3-3): Kepa; Azpilicueta (c), Rudiger, David Luiz, Alonso; Kante, Jorginho, Kovacic (Barkley 49); Pedro (Willian 66), Giroud, Hazard (Zappacosta 82).
Unused subs: Caballero, Christensen, Drinkwater, Morata.
Scorers Hazard 36, 43, 81, Willian 82

Cardiff City (4-4-2): Etheridge; Manga, Morrison (c), Bamba, Bennett; Camarasa, Arter (Richards 45), Ralls, Hoilett; Reid (Paterson 70), Ward (Madine 76).
Unused subs: Murphy, Peltier, Zohore, Cunningham.
Scorer Bamba 15

Referee Jonathan Moss
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