Confidence is running high in the Chelsea camp these days. We only have to look at the Premier League table and the massive nine-point gap from first to second to start to see why. Antonio Conte has brought the good times back, long may they last.
Conte’s system has benefited almost everyone in the squad, certainly all the usual starting eleven, and Eden Hazard is no exception despite everyone’s continued attempts at kicking him into early retirement.
But in a way, all the kicks are also a necessary evil as it’s one way for Hazard to “feel” the game. If they’re not kicking you, you’re not doing something right, is that it, Eden?
“It's true -- when I get a lot of kicks, I feel really in the game. And when people don't touch me, it tells me I'm not doing well. No good. I'm not saying I like to be kicked, but it's good for me to feel I am in the game. Definitely. A motivation.”
Well, whatever works, I suppose.
Hazard looked plenty motivated on Saturday against Arsenal, leading the team in touches (per-minute), getting credited with ten (10!) take-ons, and scoring a goal of the season contender that basically settled the tie early on in the second half. It was the sort of performance Hazard would often produce in the title-winning season two years ago, with the added quality of being more involved in the game than any other Chelsea player.
“I try to be this kind of player: the type who does something whenever he gets the ball. Sometimes in the past I've gone through games where I've not touched the ball for 20 or 30 minutes. These days I'm always trying to have lots of touches, to be involved and to play my football for 90 minutes.”
“The manager asks a lot of me. A lot. When we don't have the ball, he wants me to defend, to close inside and be ready to chase the diagonal [pass], and when we do have it I have to counter-attack and be free, always trying to do some 'magic' like I did here.”
“With experience, you improve. I'm a better player now, more complete than I was when I was player of the year.”
-Eden Hazard; source: ESPN
That’s a bold claim, that last bit there, though the use of the word “complete” probably wasn’t unintentional. Hazard has evolved right in front of our eyes over the past 4.5 years and he’s slowly been making his own game more well-rounded. Certainly, coming under the influence of pragmatic coaches like Mourinho and Conte will do that to a player, though as Hazard revealed to Thierry Henry recently, Conte’s influence has been largely tactical and more “big picture” than even Mourinho.
One of Conte’s major themes of the season has been to always improve, whether you’re the latest academy prospect to join first-team training, or if you’re an established superstar. Eden Hazard is just a shining example amongst the many others who have managed to recover and then improve on their former selves after the disaster of last season’s title defense.