Eden Hazard is one of the few players in the world who can genuinely take your breath away. Having announced via Twitter in the summer of 2012 that he was joining Chelsea, Eden Hazard quickly became the Blues’ talisman.
The Belgian peaked during the 2014-15 campaign, leading to comparisons with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, as many believed that he was only bettered by those two modern day semi-Gods of football.
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho even commented that Eden Hazard was better than Cristiano Ronaldo, saying, “I think so, I don’t like players or managers to win individual trophies without the team. Last season, yes. In spite of the fact that Ronaldo was fantastic. He was fantastic.”
Everything since then has gone downhill for Hazard however, mirroring his clubs fate. After being the key player in Chelsea’s Premier League title win, scoring a vital 19 goals and carrying the team on his back for a large chunk of the season, Hazard was expected to continue his stratospheric rise and challenge Messi and Ronaldo for the mantle of the best football player in the world.
But Chelsea presided over the worst title defence, arguably in football history, finishing in a lowly 10th place in the Premier League table. For the first part of the season, Chelsea flirted with the relegation zone, leading to a breakdown of ties between the dressing room and the manager, eventually leading to the Chelsea board unceremoniously sacking Jose Mourinho.
Hazard personally endured a torrid campaign, not registering a goal for a staggering 2,358 minutes stretching across 30 games, amidst speculations over his role in the sacking of Mourinho. He also struggled with nagging injuries for a large chunk of the season.
As the Blues eventually found some form towards the very end of the season, Hazard’s final few performances of the campaign against Spurs and Liverpool have given hope to Chelsea fans that he will be back to his breathtaking best for the upcoming season.
Chelsea will be under the management of Antonio Conte, who brilliantly guided an unfancied Italy to a quarter-final place in the Euros, enhancing his reputation as one of the best managers in the game.
Conte is a brilliant man manager, as proven by his stint with Juventus and Italy, and bringing out the best of Eden Hazard will be one of his key tasks. He has envisioned an attacking 4-2-4 formation for Chelsea, where Hazard will be given a lot of freedom to influence games as a left winger, or as recent quotes suggest, a second striker.
After the 3-2 pre-season defeat to Real Madrid, where Hazard scored a brilliant brace, Conte told the media that he found the option of playing Hazard as a striker tactically intriguing, saying, “Eden Hazard played 30 minutes and he is recovering in good shape. I like him in this position, like a forward, and he can be a good solution for us.”
“To play as a second forward, he must improve his shape but he is working, and he knows his shape can improve a lot in the same way as the other players.”
Being a master tactician, Conte knows that Hazard can cause havoc in the central areas, where he can take out markers, create spaces, and run directly towards goal. Hazard as a second striker would also drastically improve his expected goal tally.
He scored 19 goals in the Premier League winning campaign primarily from the left wing, and if he recaptures anywhere close to that form, he could very well reach the 25 goal mark. One accusation against Hazard is that he doesn’t try to score very often, but those figures are only likely to improve with him playing through the middle.
Hazard as a striker would probably also have a much lesser burden of tracking back, and thus the Belgian would be expected to influence a game a lot more, be it creating chances for his team-mates or converting them.
If Chelsea are to compete seriously with the Manchester clubs for the Premier League title, Hazard will have at least re-capture or surpass his Premier League title-winning season form for this year.