Chelsea came back firing after the international break with a big win, but took a little while to settle into Saturday’s match against Neil Warnock’s men.
Cardiff took good advantage of the situation with a smart set-piece routine resulting in the opening goal for Sol Bamba, but were swiftly pegged back – and ultimately destroyed – by Eden Hazard.
The Belgian twice linked up with Olivier Giroud to score a first-half brace to put the game beyond the Welsh side, completing his hat-trick from the penalty spot after the break.
Willian put the icing on the cake for Chelsea towards the end of the 90 minutes with a sumptuous strike that the Neil Etheridge could do nothing about.
Cardiff set up to disrupt Chelsea, but Maurizio Sarri may be concerned at just how convincingly they managed that. His defence was rarely tested, but when it was they left plenty of space to exploit with Cardiff having already very gone close from a corner before the opening goal.
Set pieces continued to be an area of concern for Chelsea – and they also had issues at the other end of the field. Pedro caused plenty of problems but was very wasteful with his shooting, whilst Giroud proved an excellent provider with two assists but failed to register a shot on target himself.
That lethargy left the Blues reliant on Hazard’s brilliance and while Sarri will be happy his side has kept pace with Liverpool, there’s work to do if his Chelsea side wants to be in the title picture still come the end of the season.
STAR MAN – Who else? Eden Hazard once again stole the show for Chelsea proving – as if it were in doubt – that he is Chelsea’s key man. Took his chances very well when they came to him and ensured his team took home all three points.
Key Talking Point
It was a very impressive display from Neil Warnock’s side, who set up well to frustrate Chelsea but by no means parked the bus at Stamford Bridge. Playing away at one of the Premier Leagues top clubs, Cardiff would have been forgiven for locking up but they very much played the way they wanted to play.
The Bluebirds’ defence and midfield were outstanding, with the one blotch on an impressive performance being Sol Bamba’s mistimed lunge on Willian.
Warnock may expect more of his forwards in future, offering little to profit off the chances his midfield did create and leaving Cardiff never looking like they would get back into the game after going 2-1 down.
The headlines won’t tell the whole full story tomorrow, with a scoreline that flattered the hosts, but it was a tough lesson to learn for the Premier League newcomers.
STAR MAN – Credit to Sol Bamba, who defended well and was a constant threat from set pieces, but it’s impossible to overlook the fairytale story of Neil Etheridge. Without a club and sleeping on his friend’s sofa in 2015, the Cardiff keeper has been one of their standout performers so far.
He didn’t shy away from his responsibilities at Stamford Bridge, quick off his line to close the space with every Chelsea attack. Leaving no scraps for the forwards to pick off behind a rigid defence, he made life very difficult for Chelsea’s attackers as they looked to produce clear-cut chances.
WORST PLAYER – It’s a harsh title from an industrious performance, but Harry Arter has the dubious honour of being Cardiff’s worst player. The midfield as a whole provided a good screen for the defence and did well to actually produce some good attacking positions.
Arter was a little quick to the ground though, leaving his covering players exposed and producing some needless fouls. Breaking up possession for his side at times, he also gifted Chelsea some great set pieces around the area before going off injured.