Explained: Effect of Eden Hazard's transfer on Chelsea and how can they cope without him
The Big Story
Chelsea has confirmed that Eden Hazard will join Real Madrid in this transfer window. He is Los Blancos' third summer signing after Eder Militao and Luka Jovic.
Hazard has had a glorious seven years with Chelsea, in which he won two Premier League titles, one FA Cup and two Europa League titles. With Hazard's contract set to expire at the end of 2019-2020 season, he decided against extending it and instead move nearer to his dream of playing for Real Madrid. Rather than letting him go for free next year, Chelsea has decided to earn a substantial transfer fee by letting him go this year.
Hazard's Impact On Chelsea
Eden Hazard made 352 appearances across all competitions during his seven-year stint at the club, during which he scored 110 times and provided 81 assists. 85 of these goals have come in the Premier League, which makes him the third highest goalscorer for the Blues. In terms of involvement in goals, he is the clear leader with 191 goals with Willian coming in a distant second for Chelsea, having been involved in 91 goals.
Hazard has also been the shining light of the Premier League. He has created the most chances (595) and completed more dribbles (909) than anyone else. The fact that he has been the most fouled player in the league during his time at Chelsea shows how difficult the defenders found it to stop him.
Options For Chelsea
To understand how Chelsea can ensure they do not suffer without Hazard, we need to understand the role played by the Belgian. Chelsea has been using the philosophy of having wide attacking full backs since the time Antonio Conte took over and continued the same under Maurizio Sarri. Hazard had been mostly deployed on the left flank with the permission to roam around the attacking third to break the opposition defenses' shape and open gaps.
Under Conte and Sarri, Marcos Alonso pushed deep into opposition half regularly which created a conundrum for the opposition defenders. Either they could mark Alonso and stop him from delivering his crosses or they could stick to Hazard and let Alonso move further up the pitch. Whenever the opposition chose to stick to Hazard, Alonso had space and time to attack. Alternatively, in case of not being marked by the defenders, Hazards cut inside the left channel quickly and effortlessly dribble his way through a host of defenders to either produce a key pass or take a shot. Whenever there was no room to maneuver the ball, Hazard always had the option of passing to left central midfielder.
There are certain attributes which enabled Hazard to play this role to near perfection in the Chelsea team. As a player, he is quick, comfortable on either foot, has great dribbling abilities and has a low center of gravity which makes him very agile and helps him rapidly change direction. Hence, any player who Chelsea feel can fill the void left by Hazard needs to have most of, if not all, the above qualities.
Any direct replacement for him can be ruled out considering they have a transfer ban till the summer window of 2020.
However, Chelsea can feel lucky that they signed Christian Pulisic from Borussia Dortmund. Although not as prolific as Hazard, Pulisic is a player who operates in a similar fashion as the Belgian. In the 2018/19 campaign, Pulisic scored 9 goals and provided 4 assists in all competitions. He is someone who loves to beat his man and has an average of 2.3 dribbles per game.
He also likes to play short and quick passes, something Hazard also did at Chelsea to link up with his teammates. Having a height of 172 cm also helps him with rapid direction changes. However, the one area where he needs to improve is his passing - he has a pass accuracy of 80.6% in 2018/19 campaign, which is way short of potential expectations at Chelsea.
The other option is to promote youth within the club. And the first name that comes to mind is that of Callum Hudson-Odoi. Boasting of prodigious talent, the teenager has attracted interest from clubs all across Europe with his impressive performances. He is a tricky winger with blistering pace who has a penchant for displaying individual brilliance.
Although predominantly right-footed, he is someone who is comfortable on the ball with both feet. 2018/19 has been a breakout season for him where he notched up 5 goals and 3 assists in 25 appearances, though he can still improve his finishing, especially in long range shots. Hudson-Odoi had a disappointing end to the 2018/19 season when his participation was cut short by a ruptured achilles tendon but he will be looking to make the most of the new campaign.
With Pedro and Willian finding themselves at the wrong end of 30, Chelsea should look to rebuild their attack around Pulisic and Hudson-Odoi. Pulisic should be given some time to adjust to the physicality and fast play of the Premier League. However, with the quality he possesses, he will start influencing matches sooner rather than later. Hudson-Odoi will be unavailable for the first few matches of the season as he recovers from his injury. Once fit, expect him to hit the ground running.