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.

Chelsea bash Brighton and Hove Albion (video)

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  • Hazard, Loftus-Cheek score beauties
  • Loftus-Cheek adds assist
  • Hudson-Odoi lively, gets assist in first PL start

Ruben Loftus-Cheek had a goal and an assist as Chelsea clobbered Brighton and Hove Albion 3-0 on Wednesday at Stamford Bridge.

Callum Hudson-Odoi had an assist in his first Premier League start, while Olivier Giroud and Eden Hazard also scored.

Chelsea rises fifth with 63 points, level with fourth place Arsenal and a point back of Spurs. Manchester United has 61.

Brighton has 33 points, five points clear of the drop zone.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Hudson-Odoi was making his first start and saw his bid for an opener deflected over the bar.

He also nearly played set-up man, but a cross was headed high by Cesar Azpilicueta.

Giroud was the goal scorer, however, getting his 78th Premier League goal by popping a Hudson-Odoi-produced chance past Mat Ryan.

The 38th minute goal came on Chelsea’s 10th attempt to Brighton’s one.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

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Hazard buttressed Chelsea’s advantage at the hour mark, taking a pass from Loftus-Cheek and skewering Lewis Dunk before curling home.

Loftus-Cheek got a goal of his own moments later from almost the same distance as Hazard. Cruising.

Chelsea extremely fortunate in comeback v. Cardiff City

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  • Camarasa gives hosts lead
  • Azpilicueta scores offside equalizer
  • Controversial non-red before Chelsea winner

Controversial poor calls marred what could’ve been a wonderful day for Cardiff City, as Chelsea came back to win 2-1 in Wales on Sunday.

Cesar Azpilicueta scored an offside goal and Ruben Loftus-Cheek nabbed a winner moments after Chelsea was absolved a pretty obvious red card for denial of a goal scoring opportunity.

Cardiff City manager Neil Warnock stood in front of the referee Craig Pawson’s maligned unit to applaud fans after the match.

Victor Camarasa put Cardiff ahead just after halftime, and Cardiff was unlucky not to take three points (let alone one).

The Bluebirds remain five points back of safety, while Chelsea moves level on points with fifth place Arsenal. The 60-point total is one fewer than Spurs and Manchester United.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

As expected, Chelsea had most of the early play, but Lee Peltier did hit Kepa Arrizabalaga with a strike just after the half hour mark.

And the Blues paid for their sleepy first half moments after the start of the second, with fine first touch passing leading to Camarasa’s side-footed wonder.

Harry Arter chopped down substitute Hazard in the 54th minute to give the Blues a prime free kick from the left, but Chelsea was unable to convert the opportunity.

Sean Morrison looked set to deny Chelsea its equalizer with two timely interventions, but the Blues went level off a corner when Azpilicueta nodded past Neil Etheridge.

Antonio Rudiger was shown a yellow card after taking down Kenneth Zohore in what seemed to be a clear denial of a goal scoring opportunity.

And as sure as Cardiff boss Warnock berated the fourth ref, Chelsea scored its winner moments later through a clever Loftus-Cheek header.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

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PL Sunday preview: Spurs at Anfield; Chelsea visit Cardiff

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Liverpool have two major tests — both at home — remaining in the Premier League title race, beginning with a fellow top-three side on Sunday. Elsewhere, Chelsea are clinging to top-four dreams, while Cardiff City just want to stay in the PL…

[ MORE: What did we learn in the Premier League? (video) ]

Cardiff City v. Chelsea — 9:05 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

From one of three PL title chasers early in the season, to quickly falling away from the top-four race, it’s been a season mostly to forget for Chelsea. Sunday’s visit to Cardiff sees Maurizio Sarri‘s side in full-on desperation mode in their bid to qualify for next season’s UEFA Champions League. Now sitting in sixth place, four points back of red-hot Manchester United in fourth, the Blues’ best path into Europe’s premier competition might just be through the Europa League where they’ll face Slavia Praha in the quarterfinals next week.

It’ll be a tricky trip to south Wales, though, as Cardiff currently sit 18th in the table, five points adrift of safety, desperate for their PL lives. Their advantage, however, is the two games they now have in hand. Only once this season, in early February, have the Bluebirds won back-to-back league games. After beating West Ham United before the recently completed international break, Sunday would be the best possible time to replicate that feat and move to within two points of 17th-place Burnley.

INJURIES: Cardiff —  OUT: Callum Patterson (ankle), Souleymane Bamba (knee) | Chelsea — QUESTIONABLE: Ruben Loftus-Cheek (back)

Liverpool v. Tottenham Hotspur — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Liverpool’s pursuit of the PL title resumes on Sunday, when third-place Tottenham visits Anfield in a virtual must-win game for the Reds. Given that Jurgen Klopp‘s side will have played one game more than leaders Manchester City by Sunday’s end, anything short of three points could prove the final nail in the coffin. As far as random stoppages in the middle of the season go, the recent international break couldn’t have come at a better time for Liverpool, who in the two weeks since they last played have seen Trent Alexander-Arnold and Xherdan Shaqiri return to full fitness following minor injuries. On the not-so-fortunate side of injury news, Naby Keita reportedly suffered an injury this week in training and will miss Sunday’s game.

Likewise, Spurs couldn’t have been happier to break from a particularly tough stretch of results (winless in four games, including three defeats) which has seen their hold on a Champions League place hacked down from 10 points to one. On top of that, Mauricio Pochettino‘s side is so nearly fully fit after being down to a bare-bones crew for much of the season, though Eric Dier picked up an(other) injury while on England duty. On the plus side, Harry Kane appears likely to score a goal every time he takes the field after bagging at least one in each of his last five games (for Spurs and England), not to mention the fact he’s scored three in his four career appearances at Anfield.

INJURIES: Liverpool —  OUT: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (hamstring); QUESTIONABLE: Trent Alexander-Arnold (back), Naby Keita (ankle) | Spurs — OUT: Harry Winks (hip)

Alexander-Arnold the latest to withdraw from England squad

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Trent Alexander-Arnold will miss out on playing for England this week after withdrawing from the squad with a back injury.

The FA announced the decision on Wednesday afternoon, noting that Alexander-Arnold came into the England camp with the injury and wasn’t able to fully recover in time. Alexander-Arnold suffered the injury during Liverpool’s 4-2 win over Burnley on March 10.

[READ: Sane survives horror tackle]

Alexander-Arnold has had a pretty consistent season for Liverpool, playing 32 times so far in all competitions. Despite being a regular starter for Liverpool, though, he has competition at right back with England from Kieran Trippier and Kyle Walker.

At the same time, Alexander-Arnold is the third (or fourth, depending on where he plays) defender to leave the England squad. Alexander-Arnold joins John Stones, Luke Shaw, Fabian Delph and Ruben Loftus-Cheek as walking wounded for England.

The Three Lions play a pair of UEFA Euro 2020 qualifying matches in the next week. First, England hosts the Czech Republic on Friday at Wembley Stadium before traveling to Montenegro on Monday.