Date: 24th March 2017 at 7:18pm
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Chelsea took another step closer to regaining the Premier League title this season courtesy of a hard-fought 2-1 victory at Stoke City on Saturday.

Antonio Conte’s men had the chance to go 13 points clear at the top as second place Tottenham were in action the day after, and the Blues did just that thanks to goals from Willian and Gary Cahill, with Jon Walters’ first half penalty looking to be enough to secure the hosts a point but for Cahill’s crucial intervention.

Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs did beat Southampton 2-1 on the Sunday to keep the gap down to ten points, but with just ten games of the campaign remaining, it’s going to be very difficult to catch the West London side.

So, with Conte’s men motoring towards the title and in the semi-finals of the FA Cup (incidentally where they’ll face Spurs at Wembley), they have much to play for between now and May, yet that hasn’t stopped speculation building about potential incomings and outgoings at Stamford Bridge this summer.

And two men who have both been linked with moves away in the transfer window are Thibaut Courtois and Eden Hazard, both of whom are reportedly targets for Real Madrid.

The Belgian duo, who both won the title back in 2015 under Jose Mourinho, have been a key reason why Chelsea are ten points clear at the top of the Premier League, and that is one of the reasons why they simply cannot afford to let them go this summer.

24-year-old Courtois has once again excelled between the sticks after a tough season last time out, although that could be said of the majority of the Blues squad.

The Belgian international is an outstanding goalkeeper with a big presence and someone who gives confidence to his defenders, given that he is strong in one-on-one situations, but also dominant when the ball is put into the box.

And there aren’t many goalkeepers who would have made some of the sensational saves he has made this season.

Chelsea produced a scrappy performance to win 1-0 in Sunderland earlier in the season, with Cesc Fabregas getting the goal, but it was a quite remarkable one-handed save by Courtois to thwart Patrick van Aanholt which made the headlines the day after.

It was Courtois who bailed Chelsea out against Manchester United in the FA Cup last week, making a fine stop to deny Marcus Rashford when he was through on goal, as well as some telling early saves in their 3-1 success over Arsenal last month.

And it’s these telling contributions which you can’t always guarantee with another goalkeeper, no matter how good they may have been in the past or how good they might be – Courtois is at that level already, so selling him, with the lack of strength in that department, would be reckless.

As it would if they let 2014/15 PFA Player of the Year Hazard leave this summer.

The 26-year-old has been back to his best this term after a disappointing campaign last time out, in which time he managed just four goals in 31 Premier League appearances as the Blues meekly finished tenth in their title defence.

However, the Belgian forward has got back to his 2014/15 level this season, and at regular intervals actually gone beyond that.

He was absolutely sensational in tearing Everton apart at Stamford Bridge back in November, a game Conte’s men won 5-0 and has been labelled one of the best Premier League performances of all time, and it was he who produced a piece of individual magic to score a remarkable goal in the 3-1 win over Arsenal last month.

And it would be these moments that Chelsea would miss the most, given that he is the only one in that side capable of regularly producing the goods.

Pedro and Willian are quality forwards but don’t strike the same fear into defenders as Hazard does, because the ball sticks to the Belgian’s feet, and he then has the pace and strength to get past defenders and shrug them off.

Chelsea will likely start next season as Premier League champions and in the Champions League, so they quite simply cannot afford to let their best players go – Hazard and Courtois are certainly two of those.

 
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