By STEVE DOUGLAS
AP Sports Writer
Eden Hazard was repeatedly fouled, shoved and hacked down on his first start of the season in the Premier League. On one occasion, he was even kicked off the field by a particularly crude challenge.
So the Chelsea forward responded in the best way possible to being targeted with rough treatment: By scoring a goal.
Hazard converted a 77th-minute penalty to set Chelsea on its way to a 2-1 win at Newcastle in an embarrassingly one-sided game at St. James’ Park, and a third straight victory to open the season.
The three points were only secured for Chelsea because of an 88th-minute own-goal by Newcastle defender DeAndre Yedlin, but few could begrudge Chelsea the win.
And Hazard, in particular.
“I feel very tired,” Hazard said, with a wry smile, after being asked about his treatment by Newcastle’s players. “But at the end, we won the game.”
Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri had suggested Hazard might only play an hour, with the Belgium international working his way back to full fitness after a late return following his exertions at the World Cup in Russia.
As it turned out, Hazard played the full 90 minutes against Newcastle and was like a magnet for the ball – and for tough tackles by Newcastle players. Mohamed Diame chopped him down twice in the first half, and one foul by Matt Ritchie bundled Hazard off the playing surface and toward the advertising hoardings.
Hazard had the last laugh, though, and is set to thrive in the attacking, possession-based approach that Chelsea is adopting under Sarri.
Chelsea enjoyed 79 percent possession in the first half. At one stage in the second half, the percentage soared to 90 with Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez seemingly having told his players to retreat when Chelsea had possession.
“I have never seen a Rafa Benitez side play with five defenders,” said Sarri, who replaced Benitez as coach of Italian side Napoli in 2015. “I think it is very difficult to play here for every team – not only us.”
Still, it needed a stroke of fortune for Chelsea to come away with a third win, after previous victories against Huddersfield and Arsenal. Yedlin, who set up Joselu for the equalizer in the 83rd minute, stretched his leg out to block a shot from Marcos Alonso in the 88th and contrived to divert the ball into his own net.
Newcastle has one point from three games.
As Newcastle stumbles early in the season, one question seems especially pertinent: Why did it let go of Aleksandar Mitrovic?
The Serbia striker has been one of the most impressive strikers in the Premier League so far and moved onto three goals for the season with a double for Fulham in its 4-2 win over Burnley.
He also struck the post with a fierce shot that rebounded to Andre Schuerrle, who tucked the ball home for the clinching fourth goal at Craven Cottage. Jean Michael Seri also scored for Fulham, with a rasping effort from outside the area.
Mitrovic wasn’t trusted at Newcastle by Benitez, who was happy to see the striker leave for Fulham for a reported fee of $28.9 million.
WATFORD’S STRONG START
Many would have expected Liverpool and Chelsea to be on maximum points after three games. Few would have thought Watford would be there alongside them.
With Watford beating Crystal Palace 2-1, it is only the fourth time in its 137-year history that the team has won its first three games of a league season, and the first time in the Premier League.
Roberto Pereyra, with his third goal of the season, and Jose Holebas scored to put Watford two goals ahead. Wilfried Zaha pulled one back late for Palace.
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Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80
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