Stamford Bridge’s Eden Hazard

Eden Hazard, the maverick. A wizard on the football pitch. He truly can be. It is what he was for the entirety of his last season in England. For six of his seven years at Chelsea, it was precisely what he was.

Yet, he goes under-appreciated far too often by football fans in general. Allow me to help remind you about the pure wizardry of this man and what he brings to the field of play. For he, when in form, is one of the very best footballers on the planet. His form since his move to the Spanish capital has not displayed that, although recent form is not a fair indicator of the man’s skill level. You know the old saying, form is temporary…

What Eden Hazard did in his time in London, for his first three seasons, and his last three seasons was remarkable. Of course, there was that season to forget halfway through, amid his greatness in Blue. 2015-16 was undoubtedly the worst season of his career following his PFA Player of the Year win. No goals and three assists in 24 appearances in the league. We’ll move on swiftly.

202 direct goal involvements in 352 matches for Chelsea. Essentially a goal involvement in 60% of games. Hazard was in discussion for the Premier League’s best player in the league for so many years. Outside of his first season of adaptation, and one where Gareth Bale, Luis Suarez and Robin Van Persie ran rampant, for Tottenham, Liverpool, and Manchester United respectively, Hazard was there or thereabouts.

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Hazard was sometimes an afterthought of sorts amongst the already established Premier League names, but it didn’t stop him from running riot amongst defenders up and down the country. It was clear to see why Chelsea splurged £32m on him in the summer of 2012.

Premier League glory

Over his debut season and the following two, Hazard’s stock would steadily rise. With Van Persie on the decline rather sharply after Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement and the departures of Bale and Suarez to Spain, Hazard took the mantle of the best player in the league. What Hazard did in the 2014/15 season was remarkable. Outside of Diego Costa, he lacked any real sort of offensive help in the shape of goal scoring, and yet, he continued to impress all term.

Right from the off, Hazard ran rings around helpless opposition. From one team to another, Hazard was leaving his mark. He didn’t score more than the solitary one goal in a single game that season, but that didn’t diminish the impact he had on the Premier League.

Flying past Premier League defenders left and right, utilising his glue-like ball retention, and halting defender’s attempts to take the ball off him. His sharp and incisive one-touch passing that split defences, and of course, the cool head in front of goal when it was time to finish.

This was to be the crescendo of Hazard’s part one, his first three years in his time in England. He didn’t have to carry as much of a load in his first half as he did the second. Not by a long shot, but the first part of his time for Chelsea saw him announce himself on the biggest of English stages. You didn’t need a spreadsheet or plethora of stats to unearth just how great he was in his ‘part one’, and especially not in his third season.

Hazard and company lifted the Belgian’s first and Chelsea’s fourth Premier League title. Chelsea gaffer, Jose Mourinho, and Hazard won PFA manager and player of the year. The Portuguese and Belgian double act had wreaked havoc and had silverware to show for it. The pairing had also scooped the League Cup by the time they lifted the league title.

In Hazard’s ‘part two’, let’s start with his second Premier League title in 2016-17. This season was arguably his finest in blue up to that point. With a 3-4-3 setup deployed by new head coach Antonio Conte, Hazard was essentially free from defensive responsibility. Not like under Conte’s predecessor where the shackles felt somewhat restrictive.

Hazard was free to advance, drive the ball up the field, and have an impact in the final third. And boy, did he ever. Hazard was the best offensive player in the league, and it earned him his second top-flight title. He imprinted an offensive impact on each game, in every possible way, in every phase. It was breathtaking. When he picked up the ball, it felt as if something was going to happen.

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The Belgian’s form was summed up finer than no other goal, but the one which he scored against Arsenal in February 2017.

A simple punt up the field from David Luiz and a knockdown from the centre-forward, and away he went. Hazard was at the races.

He jinked outside of Koscielny, leaving him for dust, and continued his run further up the pitch. In came Coquelin in an attempt to win possession. He tried to shrug Hazard off the ball, and he succeeded in nothing but being left on his backside.

Hazard continued his assault. Koscielny, now back in the picture with Mustafi, both tried to stop the Chelsea man. Hazard stepped inside, then outside, and ripped the shot past former teammate, Petr Cech. Hazard wheeled away in celebration.

It was a wonderful goal in a wonderful season, by a wonderful player. It was a marvel to watch. The best player in the league, after a significant blip, was living up to his billing once again.

The following year, the 2017/18 season, proved to be an interesting one. It wasn’t Hazard’s best statistical season, nor did Chelsea do anything of note in the league, nor was he the best player in the league. To be honest, he might not have even been in the top three.

The irresistible form of Mohammed Salah in his first season in England, and the demonstrative showings from Virgil Van Dijk after he made the trip up north to Liverpool, made it tough for Hazard to be viewed in such light. Kevin De Bruyne was monstrous for Manchester City too. Yet, Eden was still in the discussion, and again in the hat for silverware. Right in the thick of it.

He was still brilliant in stretches for the Blues. His mesmeric ball control and dribbling were still richly on display on a week to week basis. This season didn’t have a spellbinding or iconic moment to epitomise his greatness as other seasons did. However, he was always going to play a vital part of Chelsea’s path to a trophy if it presented itself.

When it was time for Hazard to get it done, he did. Phil Jones, the unfortunate victim of the dribbling extraordinaire.

It is the FA Cup final against his former boss, Jose Mourinho. Hazard is breaking clear of the United defence right of centre. He gets to a point where, with as good of a finisher as he is when steaming clear, the crowd is expecting.

Poor Phil Jones had a decision. Lunge helplessly for the ball or pray David De Gea could save him. The finishing of Hazard carried weight. Jones fouled him, Hazard was on the floor, and it was a chance for Hazard to convert from the spot. Predictably, Eden Hazard brushed it home.

Hazard carried the Blues through a difficult season with a sub-par supporting cast. He had an out of form Alvaro Morata as striker. That should tell you enough. He still landed Stamford Bridge a trophy come the end of the season. The load he had to carry on his back was a heavy one at times in London.

Eden Hazard had played some brilliant football during his time in England. Five great seasons for the self-proclaimed pride of London and five trophies.

The 2018/19 season, following FIFA’s showpiece event, saw Hazard arriving off the back of a prominent World Cup showing. Belgium’s quarter-final game against Brazil offered him a platform to show how he could be head and shoulders the best player on the field. Hazard was brilliant for the entire game. Creating chances, rinsing through the Brazilian defence and helping relieve any pressure. Belgium and Hazard’s form and quality culminated in the Brazil game.

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Belgium would finish in third, but Hazard’s performance at the 2018 World Cup stands underrated. He was excellent.

From Russia with love

Fresh from the World Cup, we would witness an Eden Hazard performance to remember. Chelsea in the summer 2018/19 hadn’t made significant moves in the market at the upper end of the pitch. Jorginho was brought in, but he was never going to give Hazard any real goalscoring support. He only had Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata up top until halfway through the season when a less than impressive version of Gonzalo Higuain arrived. Like always, Hazard was left having to pick up the slack. Boy, did he ever.

The sheer volume of workload placed on Hazard’s shoulders was immense. So much so, that he would touch the ball every 32 seconds while Chelsea was in possession. Think about that. Hazard was touching the ball virtually twice a minute. So, if Chelsea had even 50% of the ball possession, Hazard would be close to 100 touches in each game. Not necessarily at, but in the eighties and nineties for sure. That is absurd.

Through the season, we would see Eden Michael Hazard at his absolute apex. Now while he wasn’t the best player in the league, such as the form of Virgil Van Dijk, he was still marvellous. Hazard, throughout this season, was a complete version of himself. He was taking players on at will and was cutting through defences like a knife through butter.

Whether it was flying between three players in a single run as he did against Liverpool in the League Cup, or one-touch passing with Giroud to set up a bending strike he has a knack for scoring.

Two moments stick in my psyche more than anything else. They were beyond excellent. He truly showed why he was one of the best players on the planet.

The first moment, West Ham. He picked up the ball 35 yards from goal against a typical low block. Little space between the lines. What did he do? He shone. Like a star in the night sky, he zipped past the first challenge, jinked inside to evade the next and took two more players out of the game. Hazard would get away from another man and subsequently produced a lovely left-footed drive into the corner.

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It was a joy to watch. I slid down in my chair and wondered what on earth I had just witnessed. This man was ridiculous. How on earth did he do that?

Now, his season’s crowning moment. His defining performance. His role of getting Chelsea into the Champions League as a parting gift was complete. He pulled them into third place when it looked unlikely.

He could have simply packed it in and began resting up for his inevitable move to Real Madrid. But he didn’t. What did he do instead, you ask? He put in the most well-rounded overall performance in a European final for many a year.

It was hypnotic, breathtaking, mesmerising. Every word you can think of, just throw it in there, and it probably describes Hazard that game.

Whether he was breaking the lines, advancing the ball, working back and cutting out passes defensively, marauding past Arsenal defenders, playing sharp one-twos with impudent little flicks, setting up and scoring goals, he did the lot. Hazard was magisterial. This was Eden Hazard showing why Madrid was about to shell out a nine-figure sum for him.

Hazard was showing why he was worth the fee. Regardless of what the price was. He was showing exactly why he should be the next galactico and why he was worthy of the esteemed title.

He did give those Chelsea fans a show, didn’t he?

Hazard lifted the Europa League with Chelsea to cap a majestic stint. Something all Chelsea fans will agree on. A modern-day Chelsea legend. His Europa League winners medal would accompany one he picked up in his first season with the Blues in 2012/13.

Pastures New

And with that, Hazard’s journey in the capital of England was over. It was a rich vein of footballing excellence on display during his time there. He showed precisely why Zinedine Zidane has such admiration for him.

While he has not displayed his scintillating form as of yet for Los Blancos, you can be sure it will resurface.

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I am sure of it. We will see the form of Hazard which made him one of the most expensive acquisitions ever by Real Madrid. When he’s on-song, this man has talent and ability coming out of every pore. This top-ten player in the world is coming to regain his place.

Lord have mercy on the soul who tries to stop him. Because I for one, sense Eden Hazard is about to go on a rampage. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Prepare for the public apologies on Hazard’s name, for they are most certainly coming. Zard is coming. Coming to tear your defence to pieces.

Written by: Mustafa Jawad – @Mussy__J10