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‘Fantastic’ Hazard dilutes Matic misfortune

HAZARD-WEST-HAMLONDON, March 5- Even news of an unfortunate injury to midfielder Nemanja Matic could not overshadow a victory over West Ham United that kept Chelsea five points clear in the Premier League.

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho revealed that the Serbian midfielder hurt his ankle in the on-field celebrations that followed his side’s League Cup final victory over Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday.

Matic was ruled out of Wednesday’s 1-0 victory at West Ham while he served the final game of a two-match suspension that had also forced him to sit out the win over Spurs.

But with the Serbia international having picked up an injury after joining his team-mates on the Wembley turf as they paraded the trophy, Mourinho said he would have missed the trip to West Ham even without his ban.

Matic now has seven days to recover in time for the second leg of Chelsea’s Champions League last 16 tie with Paris Saint-Germain, although his manager expects him to be fit to face the Ligue 1 side.

“Matic is injured and he got an injury celebrating the cup,” Mourinho said. “I’m not kidding. It’s not a big injury, but today (Wednesday) he couldn’t have played.

“He twisted his ankle. If he had not been suspended, he could not have played today.”

Mourinho added: “He will play against Paris. He will be in training on Saturday or Sunday.”

Eden Hazard’s 22nd-minute header secured the victory that maintained Chelsea’s five-point lead at the head of the Premier League table, having played a game less than second-place Manchester City.

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After seeing his side survive intense West Ham pressure, Mourinho said it had been a game when his players had had to draw on their reserves of resilience and determination.

“In every title race, you have different matches to play,” he said.

“Matches where you need your quality to win; others where you need luck to win; others still where you need to adapt to the opponent.

“Today was one of those. We had to adapt. We faced some periods where we had to defend with everything. It was a game where you can easily lose two points. I’m happy with the fact we won.”

– Hazard ‘fantastic’ –

Mourinho praised the contribution of Hazard, who settled the outcome with his 14th goal of the season.

“Eden Hazard is fantastic. He is punished by opponents in a very hard way,” said the Portuguese.

“Today, not in a violent way, just an aggressive football way, because they tried to stop him, but the kid is playing, scoring and defending.

“My team were brothers on the pitch and that is important if you are to win the most difficult league in the world.”

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West Ham manager Sam Allardyce was left frustrated that his side finished empty-handed and said Hazard’s goal should have been ruled out for offside.

Allardyce’s side have won just once in the league since the turn of the year and the manager blamed their poor finishing –- Diafra Sakho missing a number of chances — for the failure to claim at least a point.

“I believe the performance was magnificent,” he said. “Their goalkeeper’s performance made some fantastic saves. I think the goal is offside by a hair’s breadth.

“These decisions need to go for you, not against you. In saying all that, we shouldn’t have lost it with the chances we missed.

“We started the second half brilliantly, the keeper made some great saves, and it is a shame these are happening on a regular occurrence with no wins. We can only hope it turns in our favour quickly.”

Hammers centre-back Winston Reid was forced out of the game after just seven minutes with a hamstring injury.

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