Can Eden Hazard Inspire Chelsea to the Premier League Title?
Were you one of those who started out believing the only Premier League title debate worth having was which half of Manchester—United red or City blue—would be celebrating come the end of the season?
Do you still feel the same after watching Chelsea win their first three games?
Do you still feel the same after watching Eden Hazard's virtuoso performances rewarded with a goal and four assists in those games?
If you factor in the unconvincing starts of United and City—both of whom have leaked five goals in their first three Premier League outings—is it fair to suggest we've been given an early hint that Chelsea might be more than just the best team outside of Manchester?
Let's not forget we're talking about last season's conquerors of Barcelona and the reigning European champions, after all. But can the Blues realistically win the Premier League title?
I say they can. And the primary reason for that is Hazard—the twinkle-toed trequartista who arrived from Lille this summer and fit instantly into his role as Chelsea's £32 million match-winner.
"Hazard was outstanding," said Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo after watching his new charge inspire a 2-0 win at Wigan on opening day, as per BBC Sport. "He showed all his qualities and it was a pleasure to watch him. He was a big threat and difficult to mark."
Reading fell victim next, with Hazard offering up two assists in another arresting performance. Jeremy Wilson, watching on for The Telegraph, was left convinced Chelsea had found a successor—albeit of a very different type—to their departed hero elect, Didier Drogba.
Put simply, the attacking talisman is no longer a 6ft 3in lone striker whose sheer physical strength made him virtually unplayable but a 5ft 7in Belgian whose touch and vision set him apart.
Starting Eden Hazard, rather than Juan Mata, this season as the playmaker behind Fernando Torres has been a statement that Chelsea will be defined by a different sort of player. The message is that they intend to pass rather than power their way through teams.
Hazard was again to the fore as Chelsea beat Newcastle 2-0 at Stamford Bridge—scoring his first goal for the Blues from the penalty spot, then setting up the revitalised Fernando Torres with an impudent backheel. As Chelsea fans well know, anybody who can get Torres in the goals is a talent worth hailing.
"Hazard lights up the show again," read the Mirror's apt headline.
Three games, three grandstand performances. There was a lot of talk about Hazard's ego during his protracted transfer saga, but on this evidence, he can justify having one the size of Roman Abramovich's superyacht.
It's still very early, but Hazard is already one bookmaker's favorite to be crowned Premier League Player of the Season. He'd be the first Chelsea player since Frank Lampard in 2005 and 2006 to pick up the award, and it's worth noting that Lampard led his team to the title in both of those campaigns.
If—and it's a big if—Hazard can continue in the vein of his early-season form at Chelsea, the Belgian can inspire a genuine title challenge.
Chelsea already had a strong squad. Roberto Di Matteo has supplemented it with Hazard, Marko Marin, Oscar, Cesar Azpilicueta and Victor Moses this summer, and will likely be window shopping again come January.
Can Chelsea win the title?
Yes, Chelsea were outclassed and beaten 4-1 by Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup. But as heavy and focusing defeats go, it was arguably one they could afford—and one that may ultimately galvanise their defense and serve as a priceless learning experience.
Defense worries are not just the reserve of Chelsea, either. Both Manchester United and City have had their problems in that area, and if that theme continues, we could be in for one of the most open and exciting title races in history.
Manchester's finest are still favorites, but don't be surprised if Hazard inspires Chelsea to dethrone the both of them.
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