Eden Hazard. His name has been marked. The circling vulture of Real Madrid is set for a summer swoop on Hazard, but should there be an element of caution. He is the world’s best luxury, but does that justify £100 million?
Watching the Belgian dance between the opposition’s defenders is poetry in motion. Since the 2013-14 season, Hazard has completed more take-ons than any other player in Europe’s main five leagues (520). Like a dog infatuated with its string, the ball sticks to Hazard and he will not let go. But there are moments when the maestro should take the game by the throat and press home Chelsea’s advantage. Often he does not, electing to drift on the periphery of the game as opposed to trying extend a lead.
Gary Neville discussed this “arrogance” of Hazard on Sky Sports. He called this phase he is prone to drifting into “walking mode”. Essentially, Hazard is like a dictator. At his absolute best, he can be as good as anyone in the world, but he does not always have the mentality to keep that level for 90 minutes. He has the ability and talent to control matches, but these attributes are not guaranteed.
In the particular match Neville was analysing, Chelsea were ahead by a goal at home to West Ham United and Hazard’s mentality dropped from Premier League to testimonial level. His bursts forward became strolls sideways; his hunger to create became a distant thought. Chelsea needed a late winner from Diego Costa that night to salvage the victory. A truly fortunate escape.
Playing at the attacking end of the 3-4-3 formation, Hazard has a role solely based on offensive responsibilities. His return is good. 11 goals and four assists mean he has directly contributed to 15 of Chelsea’s goals, though this is only one above team-mate Pedro Rodriguez (14 with seven goals and seven assists). Is it great? Not completely. Imagine Gareth Bale playing a season in Chelsea’s setup as a free-forward, and thoughts of 20-plus goals and a fair share of assists come to mind.
The world’s best luxury
So what makes him a luxury? Can Chelsea depend on Hazard when it matters? Can they say that when the team are under-performing, he will stand and be counted? Not entirely and it is a mental thing. Nonetheless, the Premier League would shed a tear if it was to lose his brilliance.
Chelsea can easily replace the direct involvement Hazard makes, but what they cannot replace is the beauty of seeing those moments when the Belgian has his hands on a game. He has all the cards and when he plays them, he can be magical.