2014-2015 season witnessed the stellar rise of Eden Hazard from a talented young lad from Belgium to a world class professional. His tally of 19 goals and 11 assists won him the PFA Player’s Player of the Season award as well as Chelsea being crowned Champions of England. The comparisons with the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo became inevitable as the young Belgian was tipped to be a future Ballon d’Or recipient in the making by pundits all across the board.
Fast forward to the 2015-2016 season, which will go down as a season to forget for the Blues’ fans, players and manager alike, Hazard struggled for form and fitness as he went 30 games without a goal before scoring a brace against Bournemouth in April, finishing the season with a paltry four goals to his name. Jose ‘the special one’ Mourinho ended up getting the sack after losing 9 out of his first 16 games while Hazard’s lacklustre performances contributed to his team’s unforeseen malaise.
A fresh start under Antonio Conte has enabled Hazard to light up the Premier League having already scored 3 goals in 8 league games. The confidence is surely back alright having recently scored a brace for his national team while he sits on top of the player ranking for most number of successful dribbles (34) this season. Most importantly, his long standing and oft-stated desire to play as a No. 10 is close to being realised under Conte.
HAZARD UNDER JOSE MOURINHO:
Hazard was an integral part of Mourinho’s Chelsea side that won the double of League Cup and the Premier League in 2014-2015. Besides harnessing the Belgian International’s attacking prowess, Mou expected Hazard to contribute to the defensive duties too by falling back and helping the defence. Notably, his inability to track back Juanfran during the second leg of the Champions League semi-final defeat to Atletico Madrid in 2014 left his boss largely frustrated.
This issue rose to prominence once again last season that saw Hazard being dropped by Mourinho for his lack of work rate in attempts to strengthen Chelsea’s leaky defence by “leaving super quality on the bench but bringing tactical discipline and solidarity to his side.”
Harnessing Hazard’s talent instead of unleashing it was Mou’s focus which is quite the opposite to how Conte is dealing with the Belgian. Hazard repeatedly expressed his desire to play rather more centrally but Mourinho’s argument was that when Hazard played centrally, he found himself in congested areas while playing out wide gave him an opportunity to go one-on-one against the opposite wing-back with a bag full of trickery.
Mourinho certainly had a valid point questioning his work rate but Hazard’s ability to elude himself from the congestion could not be put into question, alongside his prowess while running in behind the defence (as exhibited recently against Leicester City). Their relationship worsened over time and ended bitterly with reports suggesting Hazard being (partly) responsible for Mourinho’s demise at Chelsea.
Both managers have different solutions for to Hazard’s lack of defensive contributions. While Mou went on to drop him, read on to what Conte has in store for the gifted Belgian.
It is, after all, imperative for managers to get the best out of their gifted players.
HAZARD UNDER ANTONIO CONTE:
“I have always been the same player but Conte knows how to treat players having played at the highest level himself.” – Hazard.
Irrespective of whether or not Hazard was taking a sly dig at Mourinho, the fact remains that Conte captained Juventus and won 5 Scudettos, 2 Champions League’s and ended up as runners up for the Italian National team in Euro 2000.
So far this season, Hazard has been playing with more freedom under the Italian padrone’s regime having been pushed further ahead to a more attacking role. It is not new news that Hazard likes to play rather centrally and recently went on record to call himself a striker looking to score in every game. Hazard has expressed how he likes to play more on the inside of the pitch much like Belgium where the fullbacks run hard and create a lot of space for Hazard to work upon and exploit.
Conte’s solution to the Hazard problem has been an astute acquisition of former Bolton and Sunderland wing-back Marcos Alonso. Currently playing a combination of No. 10 and striker, Conte has finally granted Hazard the free role while taking care of the defensive woes down the left flank courtesy the skilful and hardworking Alonso. No wonder Hazard is thriving and revelling in this role, even more ever since Azpilicueta shifted on the right and Alonso started as the left wing-back.
It is worth noting that Hazard averaged 29% of his touches on the left wing last season, while averaging 15% touches on the left flank this season.
We’ve got an intriguing battle coming up on Super Sunday as ‘the special one’ returns to the bridge on the back of successfully parking the bus at Anfield and earning his team a coveted 0-0 draw against the mighty reds.
It is quite interesting to note how Jose compromised on Ashley Young’s attacking prowess on the left in attempts to asphyxiate the dangerous Sadio Mane. It was a typical Jose Mourinho gambit which someone like Eden Hazard would certainly not approve of.
A much awaited resurrection for Hazard who will be going into the fierce battle in a newfound role under a different manager to prove a point or two. The whole world will be watching as Eden Hazard takes another stride forward to wreak havoc with his newfound freedom playing alongside and sometimes in front of Diego Costa.
Hazard to score anytime against Manchester United at 2/1 (bet365).