On a night of high drama at the Emirates, Chelsea duo Thibaut Courtois and Eden Hazard illustrated just why Real Madrid are so desperate to sign them. Unfortunately, Alvaro Morata showed why los Blancos were willing to let him leave last summer.
In a wonderful spectacle that finished 2-2 but could easily have gone either way, Courtois and Hazard were decisive. Indeed, when a goalkeeper concedes twice and is still a contender for man of the match, then you know he’s had a great game.
Hazard left his mark on the game, winning and converting the penalty that cancelled out Jack Wilshere’s emphatic opener but Courtois outshone his compatriot with an all-star display similar to the one Manchester United counterpart David de Gea produced at the same venue a month ago.
The most remarkable moment of an absorbing contest came 16 minutes in when Courtois denied Alexis Sanchez what looked a certain goal by getting his fingertips to a shot that saw the ball bounce off the inside of both posts, and then back into his arms.
He would go on to make two further fine saves from Alexandre Lacazatte in a ridiculously open encounter packed with action – there were 33 chances in total.
Courtois was ultimately beaten twice, by Wilshere and Hector Bellerin, but there was nothing he could do about either strike and if it hadn’t been for Belgium’s No.1, Chelsea would have lost the game.
Sadly, if it hadn’t been for Morata, the Blues would have won it, with the £60 million signing from Real guilty of squandering a number of great opportunities before saving the worst for last by shooting straight at Petr Cech when put clean through in the dying seconds.
At times, Hazard looked visibly frustrated with his partner in the Blues attack and it was easy to understand why. The 26-year-old was once again Chelsea’s only reliable outlet in attack.
Hazard’s penalty was his first goal in seven games but it meant that he has now been involved in 100 league goals (62 goals, 37 assists) since arriving at Stamford Bridge in 2012.
The key now for Chelsea’s short to medium-term success is keeping a hold of both Hazard and Courtois, who have both been targeted by Real.
The Blues, though, are quietly confident that the pair will renew their contracts in 2018, though Courtois wants to wait until the end of the season before opening talks over a new deal.
Courtois currently earns half of what De Gea does at Old Trafford and Chelsea are very keen to tie him down to a bumper new extension. The sooner that happens, the better, as far as Chelsea fans are concerned, given their first-choice shot-stopper will be out of contract in 18 months.
Hazard has two-and-a-half years left on his Chelsea deal but his father has said he is cautious about renewing it with Real Madrid interested. Of course, the Blues want to see their most marketable and exciting player stay at Stamford bridge.
They face Barcelona in the Champions League and have a real fight on their hands to finish in the Premier League’s top four, as this tit-for-tat clash with sixth-placed Arsenal underlined.
However, the biggest fight they have on their hands is persuading the brilliant Belgium duo to remain in west London for another season.