Eden Hazard: Assessing His Contribution to Chelsea so Far
When Eden Hazard decided to sign for Chelsea last year, it was the most significant move by the Blues in their transition away from the team that was first acquired by Claudio Ranieri and then built by Jose Mourinho.
The 22-year-old has already shown glimpses of his exceptional potential and appeared to carry the Blues during the opening weeks of the season—potentially due to Juan Mata's fatigue from an intense summer schedule at Euro 2012 and the London 2012 Olympics.
The Belgian's best quality is surely his close control and ability to dazzle opponents with a series of slaloming dribbles—capable of deceiving full-backs on the inside and outside.
When we consider how much of an impact Hazard has had at Chelsea so far, it is important to consider the statistics that represent the player at first glance.
The former Lille star has played 39 matches thus far, contributing nine goals and 16 assists. Only Mata, Fernando Torres and Frank Lampard have more goals, while only Mata has more assists, by two.
Hazard's role has been adjusted somewhat since Rafael Benitez replaced Roberto Di Matteo at Stamford Bridge.
Hazard has maintained his position on the left wing, but the Belgian's role has been tweaked a little due to the change from a 4-2-3-1 formation to a 4-3-3.
With Oscar tending to operate as the central figure of the "3" under Di Matteo, Hazard would often be able to dash inside earlier than he does with Benitez, combining often with the Brazilian with one-twos' and even swapping with Mata by darting around the outside right of the opposition's defence.
Di Matteo's formation seemed to suit Hazard better than under Benitez, where he is tasked with holding onto the ball longer and waiting for the spaces to open up, contributing more with his vision and passing ability.
Under Di Matteo, Hazard contributed four goals and seven assists in 20 games. Under Benitez, Hazard chipped in with five goals and six assists in 19 games.
Two similar records you could argue, but Hazard's impact earlier on was much more decisive, often being the difference in games—the sensational, defence-splitting pass against Spurs being a prime example.
There was a difference since the turn of the year when Hazard was in particularly inspiring form against Stoke, contributing one of the goals of the season as the Blues strolled to a 4-0 victory. And that was followed up in the next game with key contributions (a goal and an assist) at home to Southampton, but Chelsea blew that two-goal cushion.
Shortly after arrived the ball boy (or boy man) incident, stunting Hazard's progress with a three-game suspension. Hazard picked up again in his first game back from the ban, scoring the second and then causing havoc down the left before setting up Lampard—via a Mata step over—to finish the Latics off.
In essence, Hazard has just about matched expectations for the moment as the Blues have tried to assemble a new side and philosophy in a short space of time. Not to mention the transition for Hazard from Ligue 1 to the Premier League, which even a fine physical specimen such as Didier Drogba demonstrated is a tough task.
Hazard's versatility in the final third is promising, and the way that he has settled into the plans of two different managers' systems in his first season in English football is also a great sign.
Chelsea will not expect Hazard to just be compatible in the system of whomever the manager is at the Bridge—an outlay of £32 million demands a much more significant role.
The signs are that Hazard is meeting expectations, and although it is premature to judge how far the player can go in his career at Chelsea, the fact that he is already one of the Premier League's most dangerous attacking talents suggests that, in time, he will become one of Europe's greatest players.
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