Eden Hazard was again in sensational form during Chelsea’s comfortable 3-1 win over Newcastle at Stamford Bridge last Saturday, providing further evidence that the mercurial Belgian is revelling in his new central role.
The 26-year-old missed his sides’ first five Premier League fixtures this season, but has gradually been working his way back to top form since his return from the broken ankle he picked up playing for Belgium in June. Since the Premier League fixture against Bournemouth at the end of October, Blues boss Antonio Conte has chosen to play Hazard in a more central role behind striker Alvaro Morata, and the result has been five wins and one draw in six games.
The Belgium international has usually been deployed from a left-wing position since his arrival at Stamford Bridge in 2012, and despite winning two Premier League titles and the PFA Player Of The Year since his arrival in England, the player himself has repeatedly spoken of his dislike for this role on the wing, due to the defensive demands it entails.
At 26 Hazard is now entering his prime and Conte’s decision to start using his most naturally gifted player in his favoured number 10 position could well prove to be the masterstroke that reignites the Stamford Bridge club’s season.
At Stamford Bridge on Saturday he was simply unplayable at times, and some of his link-up play with Spanish striker Alvaro Morata was a joy to watch. Hazard’s ability to keep close control of the ball and play intricate one two’s with team-mates, all while moving at full pace was a constant menace to Newcastle’s defence.
His panenka penalty screamed of a player brimming with confidence, and he seems to be liberated playing in his new role behind the striker, no longer does he spend games chasing full backs up and down the wing from his usual left-midfield role.
On Saturday, the mercurial Belgium international was finding pockets of space all over the pitch in which to hurt the opposition and Newcastle’s defenders will be glad to see the back of him.
There is little doubt that Hazard possess all the physical and technical attributes required to become one of the best players in the world, the question has always been about whether the player himself has the mentality and inner fire needed to push himself to these heights.
Exactly how far Hazard decides to push himself will be the main factor in whether he is soon mentioned in the same breath as players like Neymar, but playing in a position that he has long stated as being the one in which he would flourish the most, definitely increases the chances of that happening.