Chelsea eased the growing pressure on Antonio Conte and returned to the Premier League’s top four with a convincing 3-0 win over West Brom.
Two goals from Eden Hazard and another from Victor Moses ended a run of five fixtures without victory, took them back above rivals Tottenham and up to fourth – and left 20th-placed West Brom seven points from safety.
The visitors also remain five points behind Stoke, the team nearest to them in the table, and with 11 fixtures remaining are facing a battle for survival.
Daniel Sturridge’s arrival on loan from Liverpool was widely considered a coup for Alan Pardew’s team but the former Chelsea striker lasted just three minutes on his return to Stamford Bridge before succumbing to an apparent hamstring injury.
Jay Rodriguez, recently charged by the Football Association with racially abusing Brighton’s Gaetan Bong, came on as Sturridge’s replacement but soon wasted their finest chance.
His strike partner Salomon Rondon had already headed over the crossbar when, from an aimless long ball, Moses carelessly directed a header into Rodriguez’s path, sending him clear on the edge of the area. Despite time and space he then struck first time, harmlessly stabbing wide of the left post.
While West Brom had already lost their new striker, Chelsea had given a first start to theirs, but it was Davide Zappacosta and not Olivier Giroud who first tested Ben Foster. When Cesar Azpilicueta’s right-wing cross just evaded Giroud and Craig Dawson, Zappacosta struck at the back post before watching the goalkeeper save.
Giroud, an £18million signing from Arsenal, then impressed with the same build-up play he regularly demonstrated at his former club in helping the hosts take the lead in the 25th minute. After Hazard collected Cesc Fabregas’ pass on the edge of the penalty area and resisted pressure he found Giroud, who laid the ball off to him in front of goal, from where the Belgian powerfully finished into the bottom left corner.
The hosts’ confidence and dominance of possession thereafter continued to grow, and Rondon posing so little threat from another rare chance that came West Brom’s way highlighted the visitors’ problems.
After outmuscling Andreas Christensen following another long ball the striker went one-on-one with Thibaut Courtois but saw his low shot well saved by the goalkeeper.
It was 2-0 in the 63rd minute when Fabregas’ attempted pass to substitute Alvaro Morata was deflected by Ahmed Hegazi into the path of Moses in front of goal, gifting him the close range finish he routinely rolled beyond Foster.
A good night for the hosts was wrapped up in the 71st minute when the superb Hazard scored his second, and the hosts’ third. He received possession from Morata on the edge of the area and shot early, classily curling the ball just inside the near post to spark further chants of support for Conte from the home support.