The stats and history have always backed Chelsea in games against Middlesbrough, in their upcoming game during the weekend, though, form will instill a bit of fear into the North Yorkshire club – talk less of that of an individual monster clad in blue.
The international break always seems to offer bad news by the end of it and it could not have come better for Boro fans and most of all, the Aitor Karanka-led technical team. Their job in the build up to the Premier League encounter on Sunday had been made easier by the sound of the news that star forwards Eden Hazard and Diego Costa were out injured and risked missing the game.
You’d bet Karanka would have rang a few of his lieutenants, with gummy smiles spread on their faces. Their problems were lessened; if the idea was to chip away Chelsea’s stars during the game in key tactical battles, the Blues were probably self-destructing.
However, in a swift turn of events, Hazard was declared fit enough for the Sunday clash and then later, Diego Costa on Friday, November 17, was also declared fit. The on-pitch werewolves are back.
The formidable partnership between the Belgian and the former Atletico star, alongside Pedro, in Antonio Conte’s new system at Stamford Bridge is causing a stir in the minds of opposition managers. Top question these days in pressers, “How do you intend to neutralise the 3-4-3 system under Conte?” Answer? “We will play our game”. These mostly ring out from the pre-match press conferences, and in the deepest part of opposition hearts, they know how difficult it will be to stop the well-oiled machine Conte is building.
Critical to the setup is Hazard. He has transformed from last season’s ‘lost man’ to the new season’s ‘darling boy’ with exhilarating performances, quick to hold his head high after keeping low eye gauges when dancing past defences. His form last season was so tumultuous under Jose Mourinho, it was easy to think his frustrations will push him out of Chelsea.
He’s scored seven times in the top flight for Antonio Conte’s men to help them up to second place in the Premier League table and the easiest on the eye when Chelsea’s players step on the pitch.
His fine form makes him the most dangerous player in the Chelsea side, ahead of club top scorer, Diego Costa, who has nine goals this season in the English top flight. As an inside forward, Hazard has adjusted well to the demands of Conte who now expects his two playmakers behind Costa to focus solely on creating and displacing defenses.
His new role means Hazard now focuses his energy on ensuring that Chelsea are potent in attack and very deadly on the counter. Under Mourinho, he was tasked to hug the touchline and serve as an advanced full back on the left wing. That was a thing that caused problems with the legendary Chelsea coach; Hazard was plainly not ready for the added responsibility of tracking back.
The former PFA Player of the Year now looks as mesmerising as ever, and seems settled in the role his national team manager, Roberto Martinez, also deploys him in. Hazard’s now encouraged to go for goal himself in the left advanced playmaker or inside forward role. His numbers are staggering – his shots and goals have gone up 3.3 per 90 minutes, while key passes and assists have dropped top 2.0 per 90 minutes, according to Sky Sports.
Clearly, Hazard won’t stress himself too much about assisting goals these days, his eye lenses are now goal fetching.
His upturn in goal scoring has helped Chelsea climb up the Premier League ladder and now look to be fierce title contenders. His manager describes him as a complete player.
"He [Hazard] played an impressive game," Conte told BT Sport. "We all know he's a great talent.
"He's a fantastic player who is working a lot for the team and I think the teammates are very happy for this. A complete player with the ball and without the ball.”
Karanka may have stopped Manchester City from winning in their last league encounter but he faces a different system this weekend and may not have the answers to their tough questions.
The biggest of them, is how the former Real Madrid assistant coach will manage to halt the August player of the month, who is fast developing from a great talent to one of the greats football has ever seen.
If Middlesbrough will get their first win against Chelsea in six attempts, they will have to stop the perilous forward, who now aims at chasing goal scoring feats of the great Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
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