We started our look at Chelsea's top ten prospects earlier today by checking in with center back Jeffrey Bruma, one of a dozen Chelsea prospects that showed up on at least three of the ballots we used to make the final list. Our next entry in the series was the other Chelsea youngster to show up on at least three ballots, but just miss out on the votes required to make the top ten.
Thorgan Hazard hasn't been with Chelsea for very long, but he's made an impression with the writers here. While Hazard did not get enough votes from the WAGNH community to factor into that top ten, he did show up on a trio of ballots from our staff. The name Hazard made most of us pay attention when he joined, and what we've seen should thus far has more than justified the price tag.
Hazard made his professional debut for Lens in May 2011. He was reluctant to extend his contract with the club though, and ended up moving to Chelsea for a €1 million fee this summer. Many assumed that this was somehow related to the deal which brought us his elder brother, as his resume was far from impressive to date.
The younger Hazard made a pair of appearances for Chelsea's lower level sides while the club was arranging his loan. He looked awfully impressive in the U21 season opener against Manchester City, and then took part in the opening NextGen fixture as Chelsea took on CSKA Moscow in a game that was never televised or shown on Chelsea TV. Those would be his only appearances in Chelsea blue, as he'd be shipped to Zulte-Waregem on a season long loan before the summer window shut.
It was a bit hard to predict what impact he would have, as he had only logged 575 minutes at the senior level in his career prior to joining Chelsea. He hit the ground running though, as he's already logged 1167 minutes in Belgium. He also made his Belgium U21 debut, and impressed in that first start.
Hazard has been playing a similar role to the one his brother has played here, though he's generally drifted a bit deeper. He's been primarily deployed on the left side of the attacking midfield, but moves around quite a bit and fills all sorts of roles in the attack. He's managed to find the back of the net twice, and has provided 3 assists to date as well.
Like his brother, Hazard is very strong with the ball at his feet. He's also shown flashes of some brilliant passing ability, although there is certainly room for his decision making to improve. He's been a bit slow to recognize runs from teammates on occasion, and often makes things more difficult than they have to be. Because of that, he can be a bit turnover prone when the defense is pressuring heavily.
When the defense isn't closing him down fast enough, his technical gifts really have a chance to shine. Given time to see a teammate's run, he's capable of making very difficult passes look easy. This may account for why he's tended to drift a bit deeper, as that does give him a bit more time on the ball. When he is closed down, he's looked more than capable of blowing by most Jupiler League defenders with his dribbling, but at times he seems a bit too hesitant to use that ability and tries a difficult pass instead.
One thing about Hazard that has surprised me has been his work when Zulte are not in possession. In this regard, he reminds me of Oscar or Kevin De Bruyne far more than he does his older brother. Where Eden has shown a willingness to track back and work this year, he's shown very little ability to defend at a high level. Thorgan, on the other hand, has shown a knack for tackling and filling passing lanes that Eden just never has. He's slow to react far too often, but that's not something that I'd be too concerned with at this point. After all, he's still a teenager with less than a full season's worth of senior experience.
There is little reason to think that Chelsea would move Hazard in January, as he's still definitely being challenged by the Jupiler Pro League. The talent is certainly there to expect him to grow beyond it in the future, but this experience is likely helping him immensely right now.
His presence has been helping the club greatly as well. Zulte finished 2011/12 in 13th place out of 16 top flight teams with just 30 points, trailing the league winning Anderlecht side by 37. To date this season, Zulte are already on 40 points, and are comfortably in second place in Belgium. With Anderlecht likely to see heavy pressure in January for several of their top players, there is little reason to believe that Zulte can't make a push for the Belgian title this spring.
Thorgan is unlikely to factor into Chelsea's immediate future, as the best thing for his development will certainly be continued minutes. He's under contract until July 2016 though, so he's got plenty of time to develop before Chelsea have to make a decision about his future with the club. If he continues to play this well in the spring, he'll force Chelsea to look for a loan to a more competitive league next fall. Should that happen, I'd expect him to rank much higher on this list in a year.