Eden Hazard; The Prince Who Would Be King

4th October 2018, Stamford Bridge, London, England; UEFA Europa League football, Chelsea versus Videoton; Eden Hazard of Chelsea (photo by Shaun Brooks/Action Plus via Getty Images)

“I think so. We have spoken and I told him (Hazard) he can score 40 goals. He has to improve some things, but he can do it.” – Maurizio Sarri

For Chelsea, Eden Hazard has been on the brink of the celestial sphere.

A lot of people (mostly Chelsea fans) consider him to be one of the best players in England but in a generation ruled by numbers and ‘statistics’, his relatively paltry goals and assists totals mean that he is in danger of being quickly forgotten once his playing days come to an end or dismissed as being less than a footballing genius that he proves time and again.

Since joining Chelsea from Lille in 2012 and having scored 20 times in his last season in the Ligue 1, the Belgian has failed to hit similar numerical heights. He came closest in Chelsea’s domineering 2016/2017 campaign where he scored 16 goals in 36 games for the champions.

In simpler times, that would have been an exceptional return for a winger/attacking midfielder.

The likes of Luis Figo and Ryan Giggs were considered to be amongst the best players in their generation while scoring a similar number of goals in their prime. But they played in an era judged more on appreciable talent than sheer quantity. A time before the mind-boggling feats of Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Judging talent alone, it wouldn’t be too far fetched to say that Hazard is of the ilk of the great two of this generation of footballers, but by a number of direct contributions towards goals, it’s a comparison that would be jocular at best.

Overburned and Shackled

Hazard himself would have you believe he has been hampered by the managers he has had to play under while at Chelsea, from the infamous burden of ‘tracking back’ under Jose Mourinho, to the burden of essentially being Chelsea’s only source of creativity under Antonio Conte as well as the latter’s forceful shoehorning of the Belgian into a position and indeed system that exposed all of his weaknesses rather than strengths.

If this is anything more than mere excuses from the prodigious forward, then new Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri could be a match made in heaven for Hazard.

The Italian comes highly recommended from Napoli where he showcased his penchant for a quick, fluid, exuberant football which seemed to maximize the quality of the attackers he had at his disposal.

The Sarri Effect

Early days under Sarri already suggest that for Hazard, this could be the most numerically productive season yet at Chelsea or even in his entire career. 8 goals already in only 6 starts and the projections of just how many goals he can amass over the course of the season would leave an ocean in the mouths of Chelsea fans.

But what exactly has changed for Hazard under Sarri? It’s very simple really, and there’s no better person to explain it the Italian gaffer himself:

In the past, because of how reactionary Chelsea’s approach to offense was, and because of Hazard’s astounding ability to beat his marker, the Belgian was literally and figuratively the driving force behind the blue’s offensive play. Picking up the ball from deep, running at defenders, starting counter attacks and creating space for others to exploit. A tactic that Hazard and now Sarri have deemed detrimental to the possibility of the Belgian maximizing his full potential in front of goal.

The changes the way Sarri utilizes his star attacker have brought about are as noticeable as the Belgian number 10’s rotund posterior.

It begins with how often he sees the need to take on an opposition player. Due to the fact that Chelsea now imposes themselves on games, the burden of carrying the ball out from deeper positions is not as squarely laid on the shoulders his shoulders as in previous campaigns. Jorginho’s passes, Matteo Kovacic’s runs and N’golo Kante’s combination of both mean that Hazard doesn’t have to do as much running as he did last season. This season in the league, Hazard has averaged 4.9 dribbles per game compared to 5.9 from last season, and if Sarri’s good work continues, it’s expected that this number will continue to reduce.

Also noticeable is that he spends less time in areas further from goal and has started concentrating his energies in areas closer to goal.

The inevitable result of this is he now has more attempts at goal per 90 minutes on average than he has ever previously had in his Chelsea career. 3.6 shots per 90 minutes with the majority of them (2.5) being within the penalty area is exactly the kind of shooting stats that someone who hopes to deliver a Ronaldo/Messiesque season should boast and with the quality of finishing Hazard possesses, no one can put it beyond him to meet or surpass the 40 goal target his new and perhaps soon to be favourite manager has set for him. He could very well top the scoring charts come May and with some consistency, immerse himself indubitably into football aristocracy.

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