Hazard wizardry leads Chelsea into third after win over West Ham (video)

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  • Hazard scores 15th and 16th goals of the season
  • Chelsea moves past Spurs into 3rd
  • Blues unbeaten on Monday in PL play since 1994

Eden Hazard may be headed to Real Madrid this summer or he may not, but either way he’s a Chelsea man for now, and the Blues are far better for it.

The Belgian superstar bossed the game at Stamford Bridge, and produced a brace – including a Goal of the Season – as Chelsea topped West Ham United 2-0. The young English duo of Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek were bright in spots and Gonzalo Higuain provided a constant threat up front, but it was Hazard who unquestionably pulled the strings from start to finish.

[ MORE: Is Hazard’s goal one of the PL’s best ever? ]

Hazard engineered the opener on 24 minutes as all of Stamford Bridge could see what was coming, yet nobody in Claret and Blue could do anything about it. The Belgian magician produced a spectacular run straight down West Ham’s throat, slicing and weaving down the middle, into the box, and having passed by no fewer than four defenders and cutting between the final two, he buried the shot into the back of the net under pressure from the last man Ryan Fredericks.

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It was all Chelsea from that point through halftime. The hosts nearly doubled the lead moments later as Gonzalo Higuain’s shot from an incredibly tight angle was saved by Lukasz Fabianski up onto the crossbar. Callum Hudson-Odoi, on his second start in two matches, worked the keeper in the 41st minute with a right-footed blast that forced Fabianski again to full-stretch.

After the break, Chelsea remained the stronger team, but West Ham worked a quality counter-attack in the 54th minute that saw Manuel Lanzini force an acrobatic save from Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga. The Blues came back down the other end and worked a chance for Ruben Loftus-Cheek who got clean through and looked to chip Fabianski but his shot didn’t have the height to trouble the goalkeeper.

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The Hammers had their best chance just past the half-hour mark with Aaron Cresswell firing just inches wide, beating both Kepa and the far post. Still, they couldn’t keep Hazard under wraps. The Belgian had another slaloming run in the 65th minute that nearly produced a chance but he had no support.

With Chelsea unable to put the Hammers away, the finish was tense. Chelsea came close again in the 78th minute as Hazard brought the ball forward and worked it to Hudson-Odoi on the right, and while his cross was scything across the face of goal, it agonizingly eluded both a streaking Ross Barkley and the far post. West Ham had another good chance minutes later as Marko Arnautovic worked an open set-piece header, but his effort was blocked by Emerson.

Finally, Chelsea put the game away in the 90th minute on Hazard’s second of the game and 16th of the season. Ross Barkley delivered a ball into the box for a wide-open Hazard, and he finished from a tight angle through pressure from Felipe Anderson. Maurizio Sarri celebrated enthusiastically, and the Blues confirmed their third-place spot in the Premier League table, passing Tottenham with 66 points on the year. Hazard himself has been directly involved in 28 goals in league play this season, the most in the English top flight.

West Ham, meanwhile, fails to move closer to the top half, sitting in 11th on 42 points, four back of 10th placed Watford and three above Crystal Palace in 12th. The loss is West Ham’s fourth in their last six league matches, a run which has seen them drop out of the top half after sitting ninth in early March.

Judge rules players not guilty in match-fixing case in Spain

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MADRID — The 36 players on trial in Spain’s most high-profile match-fixing case were cleared of wrongdoing on Monday.

A Spanish judge issued the “not guilty” verdict, saying there was not enough evidence to convict the players and others on trial – including former Mexico coach Javier Aguirre.

More than 40 people were accused of match-fixing involving the Spanish league game between Levante and Zaragoza at the end of the 2010-11 season.

The judge convicted two former Zaragoza officials of fraud – then-president Agapito Iglesias and club director Javier Porquera. They were given a one-year, three-month prison sentence, although they were not likely to face jail time because sentences of less than two years for first-time offenders are often suspended in Spain.

Those accused were facing two years in prison and a six-year soccer ban.

Among the players on trial were Ander Herrera, now with Paris Saint-Germain; former Leicester midfielder Vicente Iborra; former Atletico Madrid captain Gabi Fernandez; River Plate midfielder Leonardo Ponzio; Serbian defender Ivan Obradovic; Lazio forward Felipe Caicedo; Itailan defender Maurizio Lanzaro; and Uruguay striker Cristhian Stuani.

Aguirre was Zaragoza’s coach at the time. He was among those who appeared in court to testify.

The investigation began after Spanish league president Javier Tebas denounced the alleged match-fixing, saying a former player told him a result had been fixed.

Prosecutors said there was evidence 965,000 euros (nearly $1 million) was paid to Zaragoza’s squad and later transferred to Levante’s players to lose the match in the final round of the season. Zaragoza won 2-1 to avoid relegation. Deportivo La Coruna was demoted as a result.

Former Zaragoza officials said the money was paid to motivate players, not fix the result of the game.

Prosecutors said players on both teams were aware of the match-fixing and there was evidence the money was transferred to Levante players after analyzing tax reports and banking transactions at the time.

The judge said in his ruling “there were was no evidence the money was given to Levante players to lose the match.”

A lower court had shelved the case but it was reopened last year after an appeal by prosecutors in Valencia, where Levante is based and where the match was played.

Zaragoza returned to the second division in 2014. Levante is currently in Spain’s top league.

Arsenal overruns West Ham with 3 second half goals

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Who saw that coming?

With three goals in a nine-minute span in the second half, Arsenal overcame a one-goal halftime deficit to comfortably beat West Ham, 3-1, on Monday night at the Olympic Stadium. It was a complete reversal after a second half where Arsenal didn’t attempt a single shot on target in the first half and were second-best in winning duals and second balls.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

But it was the Arsenal stars who helped the club when it was effectively on its knee, facing a tenth-straight match without a win. Goals from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Nicolas Pepe and youngster Gabriel Martinelli secured all three points for Arsenal.

On the other side, West Ham manager Manuel Pellegrini is in a whole host of trouble. West Ham sits just one point above the relegation zone after 16 league matches, and Pellegrini was expected to take the Hammers to the next level.


Three things we learned

1. Arsenal stars finally step up: With Arsenal on the verge of another demoralizing defeat, the club’s expensive strike force helped turn the tide in the second half. Martinelli, Aubameyang, and Pepe all played a huge role, and their goals, arguably against the run of play, were more than enough to inject some excitement into the club.

2. No Luiz, No Problem: Arsenal may have found its new starting centerback combination. After multiple error-prone performances with Sokratis playing alongside David Luiz, Arsenal boss Freddy Ljunberg went with Calum Chambers to partner Sokratis. The end result was a much more organized backline, and fewer mistakes, leading to fewer allowed goals.

3. Pellegrini on the hot seat: Pellegrini will have a nervous few days ahead of him. Despite a rare win over Chelsea last week, West Ham has now dropped successive defeats, first to Wolves and now Arsenal, leaving West Ham on the edge of relegation. Could Pellegrini last until January?

Man of the Match: Arsenal’s defense deserves credit, but goals win games, so Man of the Match has to go to Nicolas Pepe. The Ivory Coast international absolutely earned his massive transfer fee on Monday, scoring a beautiful curler and then setting up Aubameyang with a chip into the box.


This story will be updated.

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At the half: West Ham lead struggling Arsenal

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They say in derbies that form goes out the window, but it didn’t seem that apparent for Arsenal on Monday evening.

West Ham United is 45 minutes away from a second major win in three Premier League games as the Hammers hold a 1-0 halftime lead over Arsenal. Angelo Ogbonna’s headed goal off a Pablo Fornals cross is the difference so far.

After two straight poor performances for Arsenal, manager Freddie Ljungberg must have hoped for a better reaction in a London derby. Instead, Arsenal has been slow in passing, slow to second balls and not as determined as West Ham to win. Every possession gained is giving West Ham confidence, which led to the goal. The goal came after a couple of pinball rebounds following a corner kick, but the Hammers’ determination to score helped them go in front.

To make matters worse for Arsenal, Kieran Tierney suffered another injury, forcing him off the field in the first half and compelling Ljunberg to bring on Sead Kolasinac, despite him being short on fitness too.

Arsenal has a massive 45 minutes ahead. Should West Ham win, it would go level with Arsenal. If the Gunners lose, it’s their 10th straight match in all competitions without a win and it drops them into the bottom half of the league table.

Watch Live: West Ham United v. Arsenal

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Arsenal will be searching for their first win since firing Unai Emery as manager when they visit West Ham United, who could use a win in the worst possibly way themselves, at the London Stadium on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

The Gunners have drawn one — coming back from a goal down, twice, against Norwich City — and lost at home to Brighton & Hove Albion on Thursday. It’s hardly been an ideal start to life under interim boss Freddie Ljungberg. As a result, they enter Monday’s game sitting 11th in the Premier League table.

As for the Hammers, Manuel Pellegrini is beginning to feel the pressure after winning just one of his side’s last nine games (1W-2D-6L). Following that exceedingly poor run of results, West Ham sit 16th in the PL table, just one point clear of the relegation zone.

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