Last summer Eden Hazard was already coveted by just about all the top teams in Europe, after what had been an incredible year for the young Belgian who won lead OSC Lille to the Ligue 1 title in France while being named Ligue 1 Player of the Year. He shut down all interest by declaring that he would at least play one more year in order to increase his development. Incredibly, he out-did himself as he won the Ligue 1 Player of the Year, while scoring more goals and assists than he did the year before. He may not have won the Ligue 1 title again, but he was once again given the pick of the cream of Europe’s elite.
For many months he led everyone on a merry-go-round, teasing teams in a way that has never really been seen before. One day it was Arsenal, then it would be Chelsea, no maybe Real Madrid, but he likes Italy and Inter Milan, oh it would be one of the Manchester clubs. Finally he announced on Twitter that he made a decision and later that day it was confirmed that he joined Champion’s League victors Chelsea.
It was not only their recent European success that brought him to Chelsea, although it did play a major role in the transfer, but also the promise of a starting berth as well as a chance to truly compete year in and year out for the top titles that would allow him to enter the elite class of players in the world; something he claimed that he was in company with.
He impressed in the preseason and although the Community Shield game against Manchester City was not one of his best, including a laughable attempt on a back-heel that left him on the ground, he has started the Premiership in dazzling fashion. His fancy footwork won him two penalties in the first two games, in almost identical fashion, and he went on to assist 5 of Chelsea’s first six goals. The games came against a weak Wigan side and a newly promoted Reading, and while it did appear that Chelsea was winning because Hazard’s brilliance was overshadowing the cracks in the team, the game against Newcastle was another test altogether. This was a top-four team for a long time, and had a deadly duo in attack and a formidable defense.
Incredibly, Hazard increased his performance levels even more. He opened his Chelsea scoring account when he dispatched a penalty and then near the end of the half found Torres with an incredible back-heel assist that would the most ardent critics stare in awe. He was all over the pitch, and his passes and dribbling abilities were all brought into focus in front of a very demanding home crowd and an extremely demanding owner.
Hazard’s signing has also been a major help into freeing Juan Mata; who was last year’s most creative outlet for Chelsea. Mata was eventually double-covered most games and his influence in the second half of the season waned as pressure was increased on him by opponents as well as fatigue finally caught up to the former Real Madrid youth player. In some games he was shunned to the wing, where his impact has been less impactful as his best position is when he is in the ‘hole’ behind the striker supplying balls to the his wingers and No. 9.
Hazard’s ability to cut in from the wing and supply through balls to his teammates, shoot at goal, or blast past defenders with a spurn of pace has given them an extra dimension of attack on the wing that has not been replaced since the departure of Arjen Robben to Real Madrid in 2007.
Mata’s combinations last year with Torres were already seemingly the start of something special, but now the addition of Hazard has made this a more dangerous attacking unit. Once one of Oscar, Moses, or Marin is added to that equation defenses may be lucky if they are not run ragged by the interchanging players going all over the field and all over the place. Hazard made his expectations seemingly impossibly high when he teased half of Europe all year; and incredibly he appears to be making his price tag and expectations seem like a bargain for Chelsea. England and Europe have just been given a Hazard-ous warning.
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Written by Mahmoud Ghellai