Thursday, November 26, 2020
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Eden Hazard protects Chelsea ambition

Eden Hazard by Warrenfish via WikipediaBoring, boring Chelsea? The newly-crowned champions will of course refute that notion, but whatever the rights and wrongs of that particular accusation, one thing is more certain – it’s not a description even the most biased football fan would seriously attach to the blues’ playmaker, Eden Hazard.

 

 

Few would dispute his recent crowning as PFA player of the year. The 24-year-old Belgian has played in all Chelsea’s premier league matches this season, weighing in with an impressive 19 goals in the process – not bad for a midfielder/winger, a tally most top flight strikers would gladly accept.

 

Of course, a few of those goals have come from the penalty spot, although this is a function Hazard undertakes with a dash of artistry, generally stroking the ball into the net with a nonchalance bordering on the ridiculous.

 

As the goalkeeper springs cheetah-like into one of the corners, the ball trundles effortlessly into the net with a sigh and a wink. He did come close to blotting his copybook during Sunday’s title-clinching win against Crystal Palace, but he managed to atone for his miss by slotting home the rebound and thereby attaching his name to the goal which took his side over the winning line.

 

Hazard’s overall impact this season has been such that his manager, José Mourinho, was moved to describe him as one of the top three players in the world. Given that two of those places are widely acknowledged to be in the possession of Lionel and Cristiano (no surnames required), this places Hazard in esteemed company indeed, and without peer elsewhere on the planet.

 

Mourinho, it will be acknowledged, is no stranger to hyperbole, and is hardly unbiased in his assertion. However, his remarks were echoed by a certain Zinedine Zidane, who is obviously someone who knows a thing or two about greatness when it comes to the beautiful game.

 

In all likelihood, Mourinho’s comments reflect his view that Hazard has, quite simply, been the difference between Chelsea and the rest this season. We all recognise that one player does not win the league on his own, but there is surely little doubt that Hazard’s influence has been such that the Manchester duo and Arsenal have trailed in Chelsea’s wake from the outset.

 

After all, would Barcelona and Real Madrid have been quite as successful without the aforementioned Messi and Ronaldo in recent years? One player can indeed be the ultimate difference between success and also-ran status.

 

That Chelsea have been league front-runners since last August makes their claim to be the best of the bunch a sound one. Nevertheless, they have often failed to entirely convince, and the frail hamstrings of Diego Costa has placed the goal-scoring onus on other parts of the team. Step forward Hazard, who it could be said is also filling the midfield goal-scoring void created by Frank Lampard’s departure.

 

Last summer, Hazard received less complimentary comments when he failed to inspire fancied Belgium in the world cup finals in Brazil. Critics were quick to suggest his lack on influence on the biggest stage of all brought his so-called world class status into question, although much the same could be said of Cristian Ronaldo’s efforts for Portugal, and no rational observer would deny his abilities as a top player.

 

Another more recent criticism of Hazard has centred on his apparent tendency to hit the turf far too easily in a bid to win free-kicks and penalties, and (despite Mourinho’s somewhat blinkered and over-the-top criticism of match officials) there is some truth in that.

 

However, it must be acknowledged that Hazard is hardly alone in that regard – sadly, theatrical attempts to gain any advantage is endemic within the game these days, and many top players have mastered that art at least as well as Hazard.

 

This, of course, is not to condone diving so much as to recognise that it’s something players do – Hazard is simply reflecting a trend in football.

 

We can take comfort, however, in the knowledge that it’s Hazard’s incredible pace, skill and artistry that separates him from his peers. Mourinho’s views on the player – whether or not we accept top three status – reflect the fact that the first league title to head for Stamford Bridge for five years is mainly, if not quite exclusively, down to the contribution of his Belgian superstar.

 

 

The jury may still be out as to whether Chelsea are boring, but this accusation will never obtain a guilty verdict when it comes to assessing Eden Hazard.

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