We're through a weekend of friendlies and there were lots of Chelsea boys in action. We don't care about them very much right now, however, because most of our eyes are fixed excitedly on supposed new signing Eden Hazard, who played for Belgium against England, and on FC Porto's Hulk, who started in Brazil's 2-0 loss to Mexico. Let's dig into some notes from both players' performances.
Eden Hazard vs. England
It wasn't a Lille vintage performance from Hazard, who's usually a threat to blow open the game whenever he touches the ball in the final third. There are a few reasons I can think of for this, all of them fairly reasonable.
- Improved defence. England's back line is better than anything Ligue 1 has to offer.
- Unfamiliar position. Hazard was deployed as a false nine in Belgium's odd 4-2-1-3 shape. As far as I can tell, this is the first time he's ever been used there.
- Taking it easy. Normally I'd expect to see Hazard driving at defenders with the ball more, and he seemed to be less inclined to do so on Saturday. Playing clever passes is a less injurious option than trying to beat defenders and I wouldn't be shocked if Hazard played with his Stamford Bridge medical in mind.
That's a lot of explaining what he didn't do. So what did he get up to? Opta have him at six chances created, which seems ridiculously high (I think, upon watching, that he created one, maybe two genuine goalscoring opportunities). Belgium struggled to break through the centre thanks to the odd use of Marouane Fellaini as the focal point of the attack, and Hazard ended up being far more playmaker than deadly-thruster. And he playmade with aplomb.
Hazard showed intelligent decision making and ball-retention in the final third of an away game against a good defence. There were maybe four or five mistakes with the ball in ninety touches. His ability to play one-twos really opened up space for Dries Mertens and Kevin Mirallas, and Hazard blossomed further when a clearly rusty Romelu Lukaku was introduced 70 minutes in, allowing him an obvious outlet further forward.
You can check out a video of his touches on Saturday here, but what really stuck me upon rewatching was Hazard's ability to understand England's marking system and exploit it. Several times he found the point at which England's defenders handed him off to each other just before starting a run in order to take advantage of their confusion, and I suspect that if Belgium had intelligent enough players to see what he was doing he'd have had a much more prolific evening.
Was it a devastating performance from the 21-year-old? Nope. Did he show enough intelligence and maturity in a difficult situation to warrant us being excited by him coming to Stamford Bridge? Yep. I am thrilled by the prospect of Hazard playing alongside Mata, and Saturday didn't hurt that at all.
Hulk Vs. Mexico
Brazil disappointed in a 2-0 loss to Mexico, although that was largely down to an atrocious officiating performances by the referee and his assistants. But without David Luiz and Ramires, I'm doubting many of you care much how Brazil did - you want to know about Hulk, who's on the verge of either a £38M (if you believe the Guardian) or £30M (Times) move to Stamford Bridge.
Going into the match, I was looking for two main things from Hulk - his passing awareness and his willingness to track back. I guess I was also looking for more traditional Hulky things, such as bulldozing defenders and causing Jose de Jesus Corona problems with his famed left foot.
I got my wish. Hulk put in a very good team performance in the first half, setting up Leandro Damiao for what would have been the game's first goal if the linesman had been anything close to remotely competent, and I think he might have had a reasonable penalty shout in the 20th minute after charging through three players to bear down on goal. He also bulldozed Jorge Torres Nilo with his first touch, which was funny.
With Neymar getting most of the ball and not doing a whole lot with it, Hulk was relegated into something of a support role. He's been accused of selfishness, but here he was anything but, playing some good passes (Alexander Pato should have scored in the second half from a left-sided cross) and doing his part on defence too. Granted, he wasn't very good at it, but it was nice to see him try. He even unleashed a right-footed shot at one point.
Like Hazard, nothing stood out as exceptional by his standards, but sometimes you just need a player to show that their supposed weaknesses aren't quite as worrisome as originally feared. I think both did so this weekend.
Bring on the actual signings!