In defence of Eden Hazard's... non-defence

Mike Hewitt - Getty Images

Belgium continue to march towards their inevitable qualification for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, but not all is well in national team camp -- the Eden Hazard question is once again making the rounds after the Chelsea star (and the country's best player) was substituted during their 3-0 win against Serbia on Friday:

I spoke to [Hazard] after the [Serbia] game. On Friday I had to move him away from the centre and put him out on the flank to restore the balance in the centre with Chadli, Dembele and Witsel. Eden should know that, in football today, changing from defence to attack and from attack to defence are essential. But I support him. Step by step, we will get there.

Marc Wilmots, Belgium national team coach. Source: ESPN Soccernet.

Hazard is best classified as a luxury player and has never really performed well in international football, which was one of the major criticisms of Chelsea's move to bring the 21-year-old to Stamford Bridge. He's not a guy who's going to help much defensively, which should be pretty obvious when you realise he has the size and build of an extremely hungry squirrel. But that said, some of the criticism seems rather overblown.

When you field Hazard, you know exactly what he's going to provide you, namely brilliance in the attack and not-so-brilliance going back. He works hard out of possession, but he's simply not very good at winning the ball back (or knowing where to be to win the ball back, for that matter). This is why he's probably better used in the centre in front of two deeper midfielders rather than on a wing with only a fullback for cover.

But that's a tactical problem and one that's already been solved by both Lille and Chelsea, so it's difficult to understand why Belgium can't manage it. And the other part of Wilmot's critique simply doesn't ring true -- I'd argue that Hazard's transitional play is superb (especially on the attacking transition), and that in any case that the way an attacking midfielder deals with the opposition's transitions is essentially irrelevant.

All in all, the repeated attacks on Hazard strike me as some pre-emptive scapegoating should a stacked Belgium squad somehow fail to make it out of Group A. If the manager can't figure out how to use his best player... well, that strikes me as a problem with Wilmots, not with Hazard.

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