Eden Hazard - The magician at Chelsea and why he can't be easily replaced
In the summer of 2012, Eden Hazard was the talk of the town. At the time, only aged 21, the Belgian winger caught the worlds attention through his performances at Lille. In his first two full seasons at the club, Hazard won the Young Player of the Year in France. In his final two season's at the club, he won Ligue 1's player of the season.
When a player achieves hits such extraordinary heights at such a young age, the world takes notice. As it became clear that Hazard will leave the French club, each of England's top clubs showed interest. There was well and truly a war on to secure his services.
Till the end, no one was sure where he will end up. Until one day the man himself announced his destination on his twitter account. Only 10 days after Chelsea had lifted the Champions League crown in Munich, Eden announced: "I am signing for the "Champion's league winner".
His new fans could not have imagined a better way for a new signing to welcome himself to the club. The Belgian did not let the press announce his destination but did it himself. From the day, it was clear that Chelsea was getting hold of a truly unique character.
Despite showing his talent in France, there were natural doubts about whether he can do in the Premier League. Questions were also raised on his price tag. While an amount £32 million is something any club can afford these days in England, in 2012, it was still considered a big amount. Sir Alex Ferguson had famously commented on the fee saying it was higher than what the player is worth.
However, it took Hazard only five minutes into his Chelsea debut to silence his doubters. In the first game of the premier league season at Wigan Athletic, Hazard turned an opposition player on the half-way line and assisted Branislav Ivanovic. Almost immediately after, he dashed into the box where his tricky feet were too much for the opposition defenders to handle and earned a penalty for Chelsea. The first few minutes of his Chelsea career tuned out a trailer of what was to come. These are traits Chelsea fans will see multiple time over the years.
His first season at the club ended up being a chaotic one. In only three month's time, there was a change in coach with Rafa Benitez taking charge instead of Roberto Di Matteo. Due to the blue's demotion to the Europa League and a deep run in each cup competition, the blues ended up playing a record 69 games that season. While there were virtually non stop games, along with Juan Mata and Oscar, Hazard formed a famous partnership. While a short-lived existence, "Mazacar" is one of the most swashbuckling combinations seen at SW6 in recent times.
The following year saw the return of Jose Mourinho to Chelsea. Juan Mata did not feature in his plans and Hazard immediately became the team's talisman. In what the coach called "little horses", Belgium was a star. The league soon became petrified of him as he made a mockery of many opposition defenders.
While the lack of a consistent goal-scorer meant, Chelsea narrowly missed out on the title, Hazard's effort's were given recognition. Not only did he won the Chelsea Player of the Year but also the PFA young player of the year and finished second in the race for the Premier League's best player.
The following year, everything fell into place for the Blues. The arrival of striker Diego Costa and midfielder Cesc Fabregas meant Chelsea's puzzle was complete. In the first half of the 2014/15 season, the blues were on a roll by blowing away opponents through some scintillating football. However, after the new year, the wheels came off. Key player's like Nemanja Matic, Cesc Fabregas, and Diego Costa were shadows of the players they were in the first half of the season.
However, Hazard kept going. Almost single handily, the Belgian won matches for Chelsea. Hazard assisted Loic Remy's goal in the extremely important 1-1 draw versus Manchester City and his match-winning goals vs Hull City and QPR. He also scored the winner vs West Ham, Manchester United and Crystal Palace.
These narrow wins were extremely crucial in deciding the faith of the Premier League. While the team's football did not impress anyone, Hazard ensured Chelsea did lift the title that year. Not to the surprise of anyone, Hazard was crowned as the best player in the country that year.
Two years later, Chelsea again won the league under Antonio Conte. Quite expectedly, Eden Hazard was the star of the championship winning team. Much like the previous title win, Deigo Costa was a headline act in the first half of the season only to lose his shine after January. However, Hazard remained the difference maker. The Belgian was critical in Chelsea's 13 match winning streak as he scored five goals in the first five games.
As Chelsea came close to finish line, Hazard's incredible solo goal vs Arsenal and brace vs Manchester were two of the most important moments. Across all competitions, the former Lille man bagged a goal against each of the top six except Liverpool. Along With Ngolo Kante, Eden Hazard was a stand out performer in another title-winning team.
The Bad Times
However, Chelsea and Hazard's story has not always been rosy. The 2015-16 was a catastrophe at Stamford Bridge. In an incredible season, Chelsea finished 10th at the end of the season. At one point when Jose Mourinho was given the pink slip, the blues were only one point off the relegation. Almost the entire team performed below potential that season. One of the biggest underperformers of the season was Hazard himself.
The previous season's player of the season only finished with four goals that season. Almost the surprise of the football world, he went 356 days without a goal in the Premier League. For a player of his standards, the season was completely unacceptable. However, considering, how dysfunctional everything about Chelsea that year was, one can sympathize with Hazard. Let us not forget how Lionel Messi was far from his best at this year's World Cup in a disorganized Argentina side.
The Season of myth
A lot of critics have called Hazard "inconsistent". One of the main reasons behind their argument is him not showing up in two seasons after Chelsea won the title. While as we established that was true in the Mourinho's last season but it is not remotely the case in 2017-18. While the season was a forgettable one for Chelsea, it was hardly a bad one for Hazard. Coming from a major ankle surgery in the summer, Hazard was not fit for the start of the season. H
is first Premier League start of the season was in the last week of September and his first goal of the season came in October. However, after his return, Hazard's form was nothing short of incredible. Till January, the Belgian was at his best and the main reason why Chelsea was second at New Year. Even in Chelsea's humiliating 4-1 loss at Watford, an incredible goal by Hazard gave Chelsea hope.
One of the major easons why Chelsea progressed from their Champions League group was the Belgian's brilliance. He put up an absolutely magnificent display in Chelsea's famous win away at the Wanda Metropolitano, where he assisted Alvaro Morata's goal.
In Chelsea's nail-biting home draw to A.S Roma, Hazard registered a brace to save Chelsea from defeat. In the final group against Atletico Madrid at Stamford Bridge, Hazard created chance after Chance and it was a piece of magic by him which ensured an own goal and a draw for the Blues.
It was only in the March, where Hazard performed below standards. The away leg to Barcelona and the home game to Tottenham were highly disappointing performances from Chelsea's talisman. In other matches such as the home tie to Barcelona and away game to Manchester City, Antonio Conte's decision to deploy him as a false nine took away Hazard ability to have any impact on the match.
Willian got a lot of deserved credit for his goals against Barcelona and Manchester City but Hazard's assist for both was quickly forgotten. In the Fa Cup final, Hazard earned and scored the penalty for the only goal of the match. At the end of the day, Hazard finished the season with the most number of Man of the Match awards across the Premier League. The calls of Hazard "disappearing in the 2017/18 season" are nothing but a myth.
Statistics don't do justice
If there is one consistent criticism of Eden Hazard over the years, it is his lack of goals. Hazard is yet to hit the 20 goal mark in any of his six seasons at Stamford Bridge. In the age of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo's insanity, these numbers sound ordinary. However, there is no shame in not being as good as two of them.
Till now, he has 76 Premier League goals and a total of 97 goals for Chelsea in six seasons. These numbers are impressive and not something regularly produced. Arjen Robben and Frank Ribery are two of the finest wide players of recent times and the former Lille man's numbers are almost similar to the Bayern Munich duo.
Despite being known as a creative player, Hazard's assist number has always been underwhelming. Except for his first season at the club, the Belgian is yet to hit 10 assists in a Premier League. These numbers can only be called a misrepresentation of what the player has done for the team. Ultimately, assist numbers heavily come down to the finishing of other player's.
It is worth noting that since Opta started recording "Chances created" numbers in 2006, Hazard is sixth in the list across the top five European league's. One must remember that at the start of the time period, Hazard was only aged 15 and only started playing senior football a couple of years later. Also, prior to this season, Hazard has barely taken any free kicks or corners and most of his chances are only created in open play.
Above everything, there are many things about Chelsea's star man that statistics simply do not show. There are countless matches where despite not having a goal or assist to show for, Hazard was by far the best player on the pitch. Over the years, the Blues have scored countless goals which did not have a direct contribution by Hazard but he was extremely critical in making it happen.
On a lot of occasions, Hazard is the person with the pre-assist. His stupendous dribbling is often critical in taking defenders out of the game and creating space for other attackers. The amount of focus and attention opposition coaches give to Hazard in their preparation for the game speaks volumes.
Another fact behind Hazard's low numbers is the kind of setups he has played in. Both Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte are two of the best coaches in world football but both are pragmatic in nature. The philosophy of both of Chelsea's title-winning coach focussed on defending and having maximum numbers behind the ball. This has meant that Hazard has not had the liberty to take positions closer to the goal and have many teammates around him when in the attacking third.
Often, the Belgian is the player who is dropping deep to release the pressure on the team and initiating attacks. Alexis Sanchez and Mohammed Salah are two players Hazard has found the comparison to in the Premier League over the years. One must keep in mind, how poor both have looked in a Jose Mourinho side.
Also, no player has ever scored more than 20 goals in a season under Antonio Conte. It is no surprise that Hazard's best statistical start to the season has come under Maurizio Sarri; the first offensive-minded manager he has played under at Chelsea.
Furthers, it's the player's own attitude that is a reason behind the numbers. Unlike most players around, he is someone not desperate for numbers. It is not something that Hazard has just said in various interviews but also shown on the pitch. On many occasions, Eden has preferred to pass the ball to a player in a better scoring position and not go for goal himself. A great example of this was in Chelsea's third round tie in the Carabao Cup last year.
The match against Nottingham Forest was Hazard's first start since his injury and with Chelsea 3-0 up, Hazard found himself in front of an empty goal. While an ideal opportunity to score and open his tally for the season presented, Hazard preferred to pass the ball to Michy Batshuayi and in the process increase his country's mate goal tally and confidence.
These instances of unselfishness are a common theme of Hazard's career. His attitude to the game is rare in the modern-day. Until these actions are not hurting the team and he is performing at his optimal level, Chelsea fans should celebrate and savour his way. If he can add number's to his game, there is nothing better, if not, he is still as good a player.
A huge stain on Hazard's career is his showing in the Champions League. Though he was easily Chelsea's best player in last year's tournament, no one can deny that over the year's, he has not done justice to his talent in the European Cup. Over his Chelsea career, Hazard has only eight goals to show for.
However, a lot of it comes down to the club itself. In the years since Hazard joined Chelsea, the club has only made the semi-final once. It's hard to look at the Chelsea squad in those years and say that they were capable of any better. In the same period, Diego Costa only managed two goals in his three season at Chelsea in the competition.
This after scoring eight for Atletico Madrid in the year before his transfer to London. Quite clearly, a lot has gone wrong for Chelsea in Europe over the last few years. It's a shame that Chelsea has not built a squad capable of winning the Champions League with a talent like Hazard around.
A player for the big occasion
A striking quality of Eden Hazard is his appetite for a big match. The Belgian raises his game to a higher level on a bigger occasion. This year's world cup a classic example of that. Captaining his country, Hazard was one of the finest player's on display in Russia and ultimately won the Silver Ball.
His best performances for the club have come against the toughest opponents. Two of his most jaw-dropping goals were against big teams in Arsenal and Liverpool. Some of his most memorable moments are against the finest opponents including the goal which ensured Chelsea's arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur will not win the title. While his overall goalscoring record does not impress many, his record in front of goal against the big teams is simply remarkable. Against the famed "top six" of England, Hazard has a combined 22 goals and 17 assists.
In both Premier League title's Chelsea have won in his time, Hazard has the catalyst in making it happen. It's hard to imagine the Blues winning those two titles without him. Very few players in world football could have possibly had the same impact.
This season, the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool are much better prepared to win the title. On the basis of squad quality and time spent with their coaches, Chelsea is much behind the two clubs. However, there is a still a reason some believe the title can return to Stamford Bridge. The reason is Eden Hazard.
A pure human
While in a footballing sense it might not matter but Hazard is an extremely likeable personality. His post-match interviews have given a great reflection of the person he is. While his constant talk about his "dream move" might annoy some, the other aspects of his speaking make one really admire him. The Belgian is an extremely light-hearted and fun person to listen too.
These aspects of his nature are visible on the pitch too. His style of play leads to him being constantly fouled and kicked. Sometimes in a fashion that makes everything watching furious. However, the man himself hardly he makes a fuss about it. He gets up and starts playing the game again as if nothing happened. His spirit should inspire many.
A Joy to watch
When Hazard does say goodbye to West London his goals, winner's medal's and individual awards might be quickly forgotten and maybe even replaced. However, there are certain things, that Chelsea fans will never forget. The moments of individual brilliance he has shown will be a part of Chelsea folktale forever. Over the past six year's he has been the club's biggest match-winner. However, even more than that, he has been a source of great entertainment and happiness for fans.
Even in some dull matches at times, Hazard has got people on the edge of their chair. Be it a stylish dribble, exotic skill move, a sublime pass or at times an incredible goal, Hazard has time and again produced moments of magic that have left viewers amazed and astonished.
One thing remains certain, Stamford Bridge will remember the £32 million signing from Lille as the most talented player to wear the Royal Blue kit along with Gianfranco Zola. If he decides to sign a new deal and stay at the club for longer, he will surely end up as one of the club's greatest ever players.