It is without question that Eden Hazard has been Chelsea’s most influential player since his arrival five summers ago. The Belgian has guided the club to two league titles, danced his way to the League Cup and ignited their triumph over Benfica in the 2013 Europa League final.
Last month, Eden Hazard sustained a fracture to his right ankle whilst training with the Belgian national team. As a consequence, it was announced that he would be sidelined for three months.
It will be hard to envisage a Chelsea without their Player of the Year for three of the past four seasons. The Belgian has contributed 16 goals and five assists in his 36 league appearances last season; a feat which none of his team-mates came close to matching.
In the 2015-16, Hazard was not at his best and Chelsea briefly collapsed. Their tenth-place finish was their worst league finish in twenty years. The Belgian started 31 times over the course of the season, but his lacklustre displays led to him being dropped. Time will tell whether Chelsea have learned from this experience. Although they will only miss Hazard until early September, the start to the season is key to shaping the table and they will regret any missed points come the end of the season.
Three Potential Eden Hazard Replacements
Willian Borges da Silva
The most likely player to fill in is Willian. The Brazilian has emerged as a fan favourite since making the move from Russia, mainly for his consistency and hard work on the field. Rapid and tireless, Willian has proved himself as an effective set piece taker with nine of his goals for the Blues coming from free kicks. He has, however, been labelled a strong threat on the counter attack rather than a true winger like his Belgian counterpart.
To match Hazard’s input to the team, Willian needs to add more goals to his game. He has started his pre-season positively, striking a first half hat-trick in the 8-2 win over Fulham. The chances of him replicating this in the league are minimal. Regardless, he is always the most reliable option to stand in until his return.
Many will have expected Charly Musonda to leave the club, as he was linked with a £5 million move to Celtic. In fact, manager Antonio Conte has handed the Belgian a shirt number, which can only suggest that he is going to remain in England for the season.
Full of flair, the youngster spent most of the past two seasons on loan at Real Betis. Despite failing to make an impact, he took the chance to showcase his skill to Conte and the Chelsea supporters.
He is capable of playing on both the left side of midfield and as an attacking midfielder. He has an eye to glide past defenders in a style similar to Hazard; his pace combines with his skill to form a fatal firearm. He must develop his end product before staking a claim to play regularly for the Blues, but he certainly has the potential to become a household name in the future.
In his time as a professional, Kenedy has featured in a plethora of positions including a left-back, left winger and striker. Squad depth is more vital than ever with Chelsea returning to European football, and Kenedy could be used as back-up to Marcos Alonso, providing that the deal for Alex Sandro does not materialise. Nevertheless, Conte could experiment his utility player in a role further up the pitch.
The Italian sent Kenedy out on loan to Watford with every intention of judging his talent in a defensive system. Unfortunately, injuries meant that he was recalled in January after making just one appearance for The Hornets. Hazard’s injury could offer the Brazilian the chance to show off his attacking ability; he is no stranger to playing as a winger, having done so early in his career at Fluminese.
Hazard’s injury could be just a glimpse of what is to come. Chelsea will have to adapt to winning titles without him at some point, and with Real Madrid circling the Belgian like a vulture, he could easily move to the Bernabéu in the future. Coping without him will be difficult, but in Conte they have a tactician who should be up to the task.