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Decisive Hazard shows why he deserves Premier League Player of the Year award

By Liam Twomey

It took less than seven minutes for Jose Mourinho to swivel around to the fourth official, face contorted with angry bewilderment and righteous indignation. Eden Hazard had just been bundled muscularly to the floor by Antonio Valencia while Mike Dean shook his head, allowing the Ecuadorian to surge upfield and spark a spell of advanced possession that characterised Manchester United's confident first-half performance at Stamford Bridge.

That Mourinho drew the line at the rough treatment of Hazard is no surprise - not simply because the Belgian is statistically the most fouled player in the Premier League, but also because he has been the one man providing Chelsea with the inspiration and quality of champions since the turn of the year. 

He need not have worried. Hazard had already scored vital goals against Arsenal, Tottenham (twice), Liverpool, and Paris Saint-Germain before Saturday. He invariably finds a way to penetrate the most accomplished defences in the biggest moments despite taking to the field with an invisible target on his back, and on 38 minutes he added United to his list of illustrious scalps.

Cesc Fabregas, anonymous for so much of 2015 but again showing signs of life now Chelsea's workload is lessening, initiated the move with a sharp pass forward into the feet of Oscar. The Brazilian turned towards the right flank but soon revealed his true intentions, back-heeling the ball into the path of the surging Hazard. The Belgian's run and finish through the legs of David De Gea was utterly nerveless and reminiscent of a goal scored a week ago against Manchester City by Juan Mata, an exceptional and resurgent talent this time overshadowed by another he once clicked so well with in west London.

Hazard might even have spared Mourinho much stress in the second half if his clever improvised flick from Didier Drogba's deflected shot had found the net rather than the frame of De Gea's goal, but the moment did nothing to dampen Stamford Bridge's appreciation for his performance. The only noise that came close to the roar that greeted the final whistle was the ovation the 24-year-old received as he was substituted in the dying seconds.

As Fabregas and Oscar sparkle with far less frequency than in the autumn and Diego Costa and Loic Remy both succumb to old muscular fragilities, it is Hazard who has stood up, scoring four goals in six matches. The Blues' five wins over that spell have been secured by a single goal, meaning their star man's contribution since early March has helped turn three draws into three wins.

This winner was the most crucial yet. United's display suggested they will be Chelsea's main challengers for the Premier League crown next season with a spirited and assertive display despite several key injuries, but their faint hopes of glory this term are now well and truly extinguished. The wild celebrations of John Terry and Cesar Azpilicueta at the final whistle suggested the realisation was not lost on them either.

Hazard, meanwhile, can begin to think about the individual and team honours that lie ahead. Mourinho has already proclaimed that it would be an "insult" if anyone else beats his classy winger to the PFA Player of the Year award, and despite De Gea's heroics and Harry Kane's fairytale breakthrough season it is becoming increasingly hard to argue.

It would be a shame if such a special season did not garner the special recognition it deserves, but even an injustice could not dampen Hazard's mood now. Being the best player on the best team in the land is its own reward and he will rightly treasure his first Premier League winners' medal above all else.