Hazard, Torres fire Chelsea to the top of league

MARTYN HERMAN
Last updated 04:50 12/01/2014
Eden Hazard
Getty Images
TOP OF THE TABLE: Eden Hazard celebrates his goal 10 minutes after halftime in Chelsea's 2-0 victory over Hull City, which put the Blues on top of the Premier League.

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Eden Hazard and Fernando Torres applied the gloss to a workmanlike 2-0 victory at Hull City that lifted Chelsea ominously to the top of the Premier League today.

In true Jose Mourinho style, the Londoners first nullified the minimal threat posed by Hull, then cut through at will after the break when classy goals by Hazard and Torres earned the Blues a fourth consecutive league victory.

Mourinho's in-form side have 46 points, one more than second-placed Arsenal who visit Aston Villa on Tuesday (NZ time) and two ahead of Manchester City who travel to Newcastle United tomorrow.

"Do we like to be leaders? Yes, we like, but maybe tomorrow we are second and maybe Monday we are third," manager Mourinho told reporters.

"The important thing is we all know we are going in the right direction."

Everton are also on the up, rising to fourth with 41 points courtesy of a 2-0 home win over Norwich City and Tottenham Hotspur have 40 in fifth after beating Crystal Palace 2-0.

With Sunderland winning 4-1 at Fulham and West Ham United sinking Cardiff City 2-0, Palace now prop up the table although only three points separate the bottom six.

New West Bromwich Albion manager Pepe Mel watched his new club lose 1-0 at mid-table Southampton.

Champions Manchester United will try to snap a three-match losing run when they host Swansea City in the late kickoff, a week after the Welsh side knocked them out of the FA Cup.

It was about as stress-free a day as Chelsea could have wished for.

They easily coped with Hull's lacklustre attacks and when they needed it, Hazard provided the spark.

The Belgian fired a low shot home 10 minutes after the break after a jinking burst and Spain striker Torres marked his 200th Premier League appearance with a clinical late strike.

A thoroughly satisfying day for Mourinho also witnessed goalkeeper Petr Cech set a club record of 209 clean sheets, 150 of them in the league.

The Czech international was barely troubled as he edged in front of Chelsea great Peter Bonetti, his only save of note coming from Jake Livermore's swerving effort before halftime.

CLEAN SHEETS

Without setting the league on fire Chelsea are beginning to hit top gear at just the right time, churning out wins and cleans sheets just as they did in Mourinho's first stint in charge.

"Today we had the extra pressure of not losing the chance to be top even for a few hours. I feel the team is improving step by step, all the players are stable and the young players are improving, you can feel the evolution in the team," said the manager.

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"We could do better because we lost some points that we shouldn't have but it could also be worse. Not a five out of 10, not a 10, seven, seven-and-a-half, eight - around there," Mourinho added when summing up their season.

After a dull start Hazard carved out Chelsea's first chance on the half hour, teeing up Oscar with a neat pull back but the Brazilian's point-blank shot was brilliantly turned over the crossbar by Allan McGregor.

McGregor also had to be on his toes to deal with a dipping shot from David Luiz before halftime as Chelsea gradually asserted their superiority.

Hazard broke through after 56 minutes, rifling a shot past McGregor after skipping away from Hull's defence.

One goal looked like being enough for the Londoners but Torres made absolutely sure of the points after 87 minutes when he raced clear to beat McGregor.

Gareth Barry's 50th league goal helped Everton on their way to victory over Norwich at Goodison Park before Kevin Mirallas wrapped up the points with a free kick.

England striker Jermain Defoe reminded Tottenham fans what they will be missing when he joins Toronto on Feb. 28, scoring the second goal against Palace after coming off the bench to replace Roberto Soldado.

Palace wasted the chance to go ahead in the first half when Jason Puncheon sliced a penalty high and wide.

After conceding 11 goals without scoring in two crushing cup defeats and falling into the bottom three, West Ham produced a gutsy display to win at Cardiff despite having James Tomkins sent off and fellow defender Guy Demel taken to hospital.

Carlton Cole gave the Hammers the lead and Mark Noble scored in stoppage time after being set up by record signing Andy Carroll who was making his first appearance of the season.

Adam Johnson grabbed a hat-trick to lift Gus Poyet's Sunderland off the bottom.

- Reuters

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