It’s tempting to claim that using Eden Hazard as a center forward or a false nine has been an unmitigated disaster for Chelsea. Exhibit no.1 would be the team’s subdued performance against Manchester City, after which Eden said he was happier on the wing.
But that wasn’t the first time Conte, or other Chelsea managers before him, had used Hazard in the role. Despite that, every time Conte does so, it provokes a discussion about whether he’s making the best use of his most talented attacking player.
What gets lost in those discussions is that sometimes it actually works. For example, Chelsea’s 3-0 win over Bournemouth on Boxing Day of last season. Diego Costa was suspended and Hazard took his place, producing a Man of the Match performance. Wins over Qarabag (4-0), Huddersfield (3-1), Southampton (1-0) earlier this season come to mind as well, not to mention the unlucky 1-1 draw against Barcelona.
Coaches remember days like that and come back to them. Conte has seen it work, Hazard as a center forward (yet called a false-nine for whatever reason), even if it does tend to limit Hazard’s own personal effectiveness — but ostensibly creating a best-available solution for the team itself at the same time.
For his part, Hazard has twice expressed his frustration with the role, once after the draw with Barcelona and a second time after that Manchester City loss at the Etihad. He has at least once also talked up the possibility of his own deployment in the role. Winning tends to erase many a frustration.
Regardless, Belgium national team coach, Roberto Martinez, a man blessed with more trusted striker options than Conte can dream of, is unsurprisingly not going to use Hazard as one.
“Eden Hazard is not a false nine for me. At Chelsea that can work with the likes of Pedro around him. I’m not going to use him at that position for Belgium. We have Romelu, Michy and Dries.”
-Roberto Martinez; source: Evening Standard
Having to watch Hazard slug it out with malicious centre-backs on the ground and in the air is certainly far from ideal, but sometimes what has to be done, has to be done. That he won’t have to do that at the World Cup will be one more reason to watch the Belgian Red Devils this summer. Menawhile, now that Morata has finally scored and Giroud is impressing everyone with his quick assimilation at Chelsea, it may be that Conte himself will have less reason to deploy Eden out of position.