BRIGHTON, England (AP) — Eden Hazard set up an early goal and then scored for the first time since October to lead Chelsea to a 2-1 win over Brighton in the Premier League on Sunday.
Playing in a “false nine” role in Chelsea’s attack for the second straight game, Hazard laid on the opener for Pedro Rodriguez with a low center across the six-yard box in the 17th minute.
A mistake by Brighton defender Leon Balogun led to Hazard’s goal in the 33rd, with Willian cutting out a pass from the back and playing the ball through for Hazard to run clear and finish low from just inside the area.
Hazard last scored against Southampton on Oct. 7 and could continue in his new role at the center of a diminutive and mobile front three, between Pedro and Willian. It was an approach Chelsea coach Maurizio Sarri used to great effect when in charge of Italian team Napoli in his previous job.
“I always play with the same ability and quality,” Hazard said. “As a winger and striker, I just try to enjoy my football.”
Outplayed in the first half, Brighton improved after the break and reduced the deficit when Solly March turned in a shot from close range in the 66th.
Chelsea stayed eight points behind first-placed Liverpool and seven behind Manchester City, which it beat last weekend to end the defending champion’s unbeaten start to the season. Hazard set up two goals against City.
“We want to be top of the league at the end of the season,” Hazard said. “We know Man City and (second-placed) Liverpool are good teams — we don’t want the gap to be big.”
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