Eden Hazard was playing a different game to that of this teammates during Chelsea recent victory over West Ham. The mercurial Belgian has hit his best form once again and was instrumental in his side’s 2-0 victory, bagging a brace and destroying the Hammer’s brittle defensive lines all night, with his dizzying runs and rapid footwork.
It was a win that moved Chelsea up to third in the table and right back into Champions League qualifying contention. The Stamford Bridge faithful were treated to a top class display from their number 10 and will be delighted to see him hit the peak of his powers with such an important spell of the season coming up.
A player with world-class talents such as his would make a difference to any side. However, the growing impression from the West London club’s erratic performances this season is that they are a very ordinary side without the Belgian in the starting XI.
With Real Madrid sniffing around once again, and a transfer ban on the not too distant horizon, Hazard’s future has been thrust into the limelight once more. With so much uncertainty behind the scenes, the Belgian’s departure could come to symbolize the malaise which seems to have gripped Chelsea over the past two years.
Head and Shoulders
Hazard’s stellar display against the Hammers has taken the former Lille man to 16 Premier League goals for this season. There is an argument, with some merit, to suggest that a player of his immense natural attacking ability simply doesn’t score enough.
16 goals from 32 games this season is the most he has managed in any of his previous seven campaigns in West London. Whether or not you see this as below par, Hazard’s influence on Chelsea is head and shoulders above anyone else in Sarri’s squad.
The stats speak for themselves. The Belgian has chipped in with a further 12 assists in the league, taking him to direct involvement of just under half of Chelsea’s 57 goals. The nearest men to him in either chart are only half as good on paper: Pedro has registered just 8 league goals and Willian has 6 assists. The bottom line is stark; you take Hazard out of this team and they are nothing special.
This reliance one man is nothing new for Premier League clubs. There have been plenty of sides in the past, elevated by the influence of one star player in the ranks.
Liverpool were almost carried to the title in 2014 by the brilliance of Luis Suarez, whilst Gareth Bale’s world-class influence at Spurs helped propel them to the top four and Champions League riches.
What should be of grave concern for Chelsea, is the vacuum left behind by Hazard should he chose to finally throw in the towel and push for a move.
Both Liverpool and Spurs cashed in enormously on their star players, but this wasn’t enough to insulate them for a considerable drop in quality and transition with a host of new players trying to fill the gap left behind by such talented operators.
The Real Madrid link is not going away and continues to be something of an ominous cloud over Stamford Bridge. To make matters more uncertain, there is the small matter of the transfer ban recently imposed on Chelsea until 2020.
If they were to lose Hazard this summer and that ban was to remain in place, this could wreak havoc on their plans and also hinder their scope to attract the best talent once the ban is finally lifted in summer 2020. Much hinges on whether or not they can persuade Hazard to stay and keep him motivated if he does.
Chelsea FC is currently at a bit of a crossroads. Uncertainty seems to be the order of the day. The owner’s visa issues remain up in the air, with Roman Abramovich even withdrawing his application for its renewal last summer.
Much now seems to be riding on whether or not the club can qualify for the Champions League this season.
Maurizio Sarri’s future would also likely hinge on returning the club to Europe’s elite competition. If he fails, then the club will almost certainly be looking for yet another new manager this summer. It all adds up to an uneasy, bubbling cauldron of doubt, uncertainty, and anxiety.
Hazard’s departure would only exacerbate this very uneasy situation. If he goes, and the club is unable to sign anyone, whilst searching for another new manager, with a Champions League absence thrown in for good measure, it could equate to the perfect storm of a crisis in West London. Who would want to go there with all that going on in the background?
On the flip side to all of this, there is, of course, the possibility that Hazard remains a Chelsea player. He has been linked with an exit before and yet he is still plying his trade at Stamford Bridge. He has the talent to carry Chelsea over the line and back into the Champions League places this season and will be under no illusions as to the status his name holds at the club.
Perhaps the idea of being a smaller fish in a massive Madrid sized pond is not as appealing as it may seem. Either way, the future of Eden Hazard remains as unclear and turbulent as the club’s endless soap opera existence off the field.