Eden Hazard, on his day, is as devastating as they come, an unstoppable force of nature who can stretch, trample and turn any defence inside out. Yet, his hat-trick against Cardiff is only his second hat-trick in a Chelsea shirt (first was against Newcastle in Mourinho’s first season back in 2013) highlighting just what he’s capable of even though only once has he scored more than 20 goals in a season (his final year at Lille in 2011-12).
Some say that’s because he is too unselfish, some say it’s because he is not ambitious enough. But Maurizio Sarri isn’t here to figure out the cause, he just wants to see Hazard score and score buckets of goals.
Speaking after Chelsea’s match against Cardiff and fifth straight win of the Premier League, Sarri touched upon Hazard’s tendency to drop deep a bit too often and how it’s adversely impacting his goalscoring record when he was asked if the Belgian is the best player in the league.
“Maybe. I thought he was one of the best players in Europe, but now I change my mind that he is the best. I think Hazard can improve more. I think that he can spend less energy than now at 50 or 60 metres to the oppositions goal.”
This could easily be interpreted as Sarri thinking Hazard defends too much, but the head coach clarified that he is talking about the buildup phase, not the pressing phase. He still very much expects Hazard to work his socks off without the ball!
“No (not defending), when we have the ball in our half and he touches the ball five or six times, it shows he spends a lot of energies, and can have more enegy in the last 25 metres. He can score 30 or 35 goals.”
Especially in the first half on Saturday, Hazard was coming back a bit too much to escape from Cardiff’s compactness and organization. However, consistently dropping as deep as Jorginho is probably not the answer, especially if the opposition is not going to follow and stretch their defence out. At one point, Hazard had twice the number of touches of Jorginho, and was still well ahead of Chelsea’s metronome after the first half (58 vs. 33).
Against opposition providing so little space near the box, Hazard needs to be at the receiving end of the ball rather than the giving end, as was evident in the first two goals scored. Sarri wants and hopes to see more of that.
“I think he can do it, he can do it. I told him in the last two days because Eden only arrived two days ago after the international teams I prefer to give the players one day off. I have spoke to him in the last two days, I told him for me he can score 40 goals. But spend less energy away from the goal and play in the last 25 metres.”
-Maurizio Sarri; source: football.london
Over the years, Hazard has played in several different Chelsea setups, almost all of which relied on him and him alone to unsettle defences by driving at them from deep, dragging people out of position, and create spaces for others to run into. However, Sarri’s system is perfectly capable of creating chances just through just the collective passing and team movement and thus, Hazard needs to develop into something more effective and lethal than he was before.
The proverbial shackles that were often said to be placed on Hazard by the likes of Mourinho or Conte were not defensive ones as the narrative claimed. Hazard had a relatively free role, mostly devoid of actual defensive work. The shackles were actually placed on his attacking game, which was mostly utilized in a counter-attacking manner, with both coaches requiring Hazard to lead the transition from defence to attack, rather than be the beneficiary of others doing so.
For the first time in his Chelsea career, Hazard has the chance to be the beneficiary. Whether he rises to the occasion, or not, is wholly up to him. If the Cardiff game is any indication, he is on the right track.