LONDON • Chelsea assistant manager Gianfranco Zola hailed Eden Hazard as one of the world's best after the forward's spectacular winner sent the Blues into the last 16 of the English League Cup with a 2-1 victory at Anfield on Wednesday to snap Liverpool's 100 per cent record this campaign.
Both sides made eight changes, with one eye on the more important Premier League meeting between the same teams at Stamford Bridge tomorrow.
But Maurizio Sarri's gamble to throw Hazard into the fray 10 minutes into the second half paid off when his delivery led to a tap-in for Emerson Palmieri, after Simon Mignolet had saved Ross Barkley's header 11 minutes from time before the Belgian's wonderful solo effort in the 85th minute won the tie.
"Not only is he one of the best in the Premier League - if not the best - but he is also one of the best in Europe and the world," said Blues legend Zola. "In my opinion we haven't seen the best of him yet. He's remarkable."
And teammate Barkley went a step further, labelling Hazard, who has scored six goals in seven games this season, as better than Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi on current form.
When asked if Hazard could compare to Messi and Ronaldo, the England midfielder said: "Of course. They are probably a lot more selfish than Eden is. He is not a selfish player. He is happy getting two assists and the team winning. He is adding goals and keeps improving.
"You see him do that every day in training so you're not surprised when you see him do it in a game like that but what a goal. He's one of the best players in the world and he shows it. He is capable of producing magic at any moment in the game."
HAPPY TO SHARE THE BALL
They are probably a lot more selfish than Eden is. He is not a selfish player. He is happy getting two assists and the team winning.
ROSS BARKLEY, Chelsea midfielder, comparing teammate Eden Hazard to Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
HELPING A TEAMMATE OUT
I spoke with N'Golo (Kante) on the bench and he told me he didn't want to take a penalty, so the only solution was to score.
EDEN HAZARD, on the motivation behind his superb solo winner.
Daniel Sturridge had looked set to haunt his former club by acrobatically opening the scoring for Liverpool shortly after he had missed an open goal early in the second half.
But Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp will now have to wait until at least May to deliver his first trophy since arriving at Anfield three years ago, as another chance of silverware slipped by with his side's first defeat of the season.
"This is good preparation for Saturday but we have to defend better," said Klopp, who gave a full debut to £43.7 million (S$78.2 million) midfield signing Fabinho.
"We could have played calmer football but it's normal when you make changes."
The German, however, took umbrage with the video assistant referee (VAR) to allow Chelsea's equaliser to stand following a review that showed Alvaro Morata and Cesar Azpilicueta in offside positions, but not directly involved in the goal.
"I don't think it's a foul (by Naby Keita which led to Hazard's free kick)," said Klopp. "Then you have two players that are clearly offside. They don't touch the ball but they block my players. That means a big impact in the situation. Why do you use VAR if you don't want to make the decision?"
But there was no questioning the validity or brilliance of Chelsea's winner. Two minutes after Sturridge had rattled the crossbar, Hazard beat Keita before twisting Alberto Moreno inside and out, then driving an angled shot beyond Mignolet into the far corner.
"I spoke with N'Golo (Kante) on the bench and he told me he didn't want to take a penalty, so the only solution was to score," Hazard joked afterwards.
"This result will give us more confidence. The game on Saturday is more important. We have got to try and beat Liverpool (again)."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN