Chelsea bounce back with comfortable win over Huddersfield Town
Home team scorers Laurent Depoitre 90 +1:30
Away team scorers Tiemoue Bakayoko 23 da Silva Willian 43 Rodriguez Pedro 50
Conceding the title early can sometimes backfire, and it would have been easy to imagine Antonio Conte’s players lacking the appetite for a wet night in west Yorkshire after hearing their manager admit Manchester City might be uncatchable, yet in the event Chelsea played like champions.
Huddersfield were outclassed, indeed a little fortunate not to be embarrassed, once Chelsea got into their smooth, attacking stride. “The best team we’ve seem here all season” was one opinion expressed over the PA at half-time, which is quite a compliment considering City have already been to these parts and won.
Eden Hazard and Willian were the men Huddersfield found most difficult to pin down, though it was the visitors’ width and intelligent use of space that left the home side chasing shadows. The range and direction of Chelsea’s passing was almost unanswerable at times.
“To win like that will improve our confidence, I think my players enjoyed it,” Conte said. “Don’t forget that Huddersfield won against United and made City struggle. We are in a good patch, we have only lost one game in nine, but one team is going to be very difficult to stop. When a competitor wins 15 of 16 games it is not easy to keep thinking positive. It doesn’t mean we are going to stop trying, it just means I prefer being realistic.”
It took a while for Chelsea to adjust to the injured Álavro Morata’s absence. Hazard was only notionally operating as the central forward in the front three and after a cagey opening period it was a series of unforced errors in the Huddersfield defence that led to the first goal. First Mathias Zanka put his goalkeeper under slight pressure with an awkward back-pass, then Jonas Lössl slipped in the act of clearing the ball and only sent it 40 yards upfield to Victor Moses. The wing-back instinctively headed it back and the neatest of touches from Hazard supplied Willian.
From then on it was the slickness with which Chelsea exploited the tiniest amount of uncertainty in the Huddersfield defence that was impressive. Willian waited as Tiémoué Bakayoko set off on a curving run into space behind Zanka, then picked him out perfectly for the midfielder to complete an incisive move with a composed finish from a narrow angle. “A sloppy goal to concede when we were trying to frustrate Chelsea,” David Wagner, the Huddersfield manager, said. “We had to overperform and we didn’t.”
The knowledge that Chelsea could rip through them from virtually a standing start seemed to daunt the home side a little and they spent the rest of the first half in defensive mode. Hazard might have created something when he cut in from the left but there was no one in the middle to meet his inviting low cross, then when N’Golo Kanté had a shooting opportunity just before the interval his attempt from the edge of the area flew miles too high.
Bakayko also had a chance to increase Chelsea’s lead when he put a header narrowly wide from Willian’s free kick – Hazard’s trickery on the ball had exasperated Jon Hogg and Zanka to such an extent that the latter brought him down.
Huddersfield badly needed to reach the dressing room without conceding again, if only to regroup and regain their composure, and they fell short by a couple of minutes. César Azpilicueta hit a marvellous crossfield pass to find Marcos Alonso in space on the left wing, in so much space that looking up and picking out Willian for a free header in front of goal was almost a formality. While it was the type of goal that looked as if it ought to have been defended better, the sheer accuracy of Chelsea’s passing was giving Huddersfield little time to react.
The home side could even have turned round three goals in arrears but for Lössl doing well to save from Pedro after Hazard had given his fellow forward a clear sight of goal. In the circumstances the pitchside announcer’s joke about Chelsea having earned their half-time hot-water bottles fell more than a little flat. “What should we do now?” the former manager Peter Jackson was asked on the pitch during the break. “Panic,” he replied. “We’ve got to try and make the Chelsea goalkeeper make a save.”
That sentiment was still true five minutes into the second half, when Pedro atoned for his earlier profligacy by extending the lead to three. Once again Alonso had found space to cross from the left, Chris Schindler failed to gain anything like enough distance with his clearance and Pedro rifled the loose ball high into the net.
Tom Ince did bring a save from Thibaut Courtois after an hour, before Hazard’s last act of the evening was a backheel that should have resulted in another goal for Pedro, but he could not keep his effort on target.
That was about the extent of Chelsea’s generosity until the substitute Laurent Depoitre headed Florent Hadergjonaj’s cross past a furious Courtois in the final seconds of stoppage time, but if Huddersfield had hoped to catch Chelsea on an off-night they were sadly mistaken.