What a difference a week makes. From beleaguered to bullish, Maurizio Sarri’s Blues now scent Champions League qualification.
Hazard says that, ahead of Sunday’s 2-0 win at Fulham, the Blues discussed taking advantage of Tottenham and Arsenal dropping points in Saturday’s North London derby.
“We talked together in the dressing room about Arsenal-Tottenham. Both lost two points,” Hazard told Chelsea TV.
“Top four is a hard war, because we’re not only four teams, we’re six teams.
“Now we have 11 games to play till the end of the season. We’ll try to take the maximum points.”
The win over Fulham, with goals from Gonzalo Higuain and Jorginho, two points adrift of fourth spot with a game in-hand on each of their top-four rivals.
“The performance was great and we took three points,” Hazard added.
— Premier League (@premierleague) March 3, 2019
Sixth-placed Chelsea have 56 points, five behind third-placed Spurs, who they beat 2-0 last Wednesday.
Fourth-placed Manchester United are two points better off than the Blues, who trail Arsenal by one point.
Chelsea’s next Premier League fixtures are against Wolves, Everton, Cardiff and West Ham, before the trip to title-chasing Liverpool on April 14. Their game in-hand is at home to Brighton.
Sarri’s position seemed precarious after the 4-0 loss at Bournemouth, 6-0 defeat at Manchester City and the FA Cup exit to Manchester United at Stamford Bridge which saw his ‘Sarri-ball’ philosophy derided by home supporters.
— kepa Arrizabalaga (@kepa_46) March 3, 2019
Now Chelsea are emboldened. The galvanising effect could be attributed to Kepa Arrizabalaga, who refused to be substituted in the Carabao Cup final with Manchester City with penalties looming.
Sarri thought Kepa was injured, but the world’s most expensive goalkeeper – a £71.6million buy from Athletic Bilbao – insisted he could play on. City won the shootout 4-3.
It was initially seen as an act of defiance which undermined Sarri, but the 60-year-old Blues boss seems to be in a stronger position now, after Kepa was fined and dropped for the defeat of Spurs.
Hazard added: “The week was not so easy for him, but he’s a great goalkeeper and he’s a great guy.”
Kepa made some fine saves at Fulham, where Jorginho’s first goal from open play for Chelsea proved decisive.
The midfielder has had his detractors, due to his close relationship with Sarri, but 10 days after coming on to boos against Malmo, he was cheered off at Craven Cottage.
Hazard insists Jorginho is “doing very well” and “gives tempo to the game”.
“We need this kind of player,” Hazard added.
Fulham are now 10 points adrift of safety with nine games to play after defeat in Scott Parker’s first game as caretaker boss.
Parker succeeded the sacked Claudio Ranieri and hopes to restore Fulham’s footballing identity.
Parker said: “I was a player here for four years, and came back as a coach, and ultimately there was a brand and identity to Fulham that everyone understood: passing team; lovely family football club.
“I wouldn’t want to do it any other way.”
— Ryan Sessegnon (@RyanSessegnon) March 3, 2019
Parker restored Ryan Sessegnon to the starting line-up after an indifferent season for the 18-year-old winger.
“He’s had the weight on his shoulders the last few months, and he hasn’t been playing well,” Parker added.
“I just tried to free him up. I said it to all of them. I don’t care what mistakes they make.”