Why Eden Hazard Will Be Key to Chelsea Success at Manchester United on Monday

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Why Eden Hazard Will Be Key to Chelsea Success at Manchester United on Monday
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"I think at this talent level he is somebody very above us [...] I’m very happy with the kid."

When Jose Mourinho dishes out praise like that, as he did to the Daily Mail regarding Eden Hazard this week, it's clear the regard in which he holds a player.

Of course, for Chelsea fans, they were already aware of the Belgian's brilliance following his excellent debut season for the Blues last season, and this year is promising a whole lot more.

Mourinho, it seems, is building the next generation of Chelsea around him, with the Belgian the only player in the club's three attacking midfield positions to have played every minute this year.

Hull City Tigers and Aston Villa have already been on the receiving end of his talents, and on Monday night, it's Manchester United's turn to batten down the hatches.

Of all the stars Mourinho has to choose from, it's Hazard who looks like being key to Chelsea coming away from the Theatre of Dreams with a win in their back pocket. And here's why.

 

Current Form

OK, so where Chelsea are concerned, Monday's clash with Manchester United at Old Trafford means we're just three games into the new season. League tables are already being debated, and they mean very little, while the form of players in these early exchanges represents even less, as we consider the remaining nine months of football ahead.

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Right now, however, Eden Hazard has the look of a man possessed. He has been Chelsea's stand-out performer over their first two fixtures, and throughout preseason he was also impressive.

The Belgian has been causing havoc, turning defences and forcing defenders into errors as a result. He's in the kind of form that makes defenders feel uneasy and such is his confidence, United's right-back will be in for a tough evening on Monday.

First-choice Rafael is expected to be out until mid-September with a hamstring injury, so Hazard will be sniffing blood when he faces his replacement.

 

Manchester United's midfield

Swansea City's Wayne Routledge plays in a similar role to Hazard for the Swans, providing width on the left of their three attacking midfielders, but often coasting inside to cause damage.

With all due respect to the 28-year-old, as talented as he may be, he is no Eden Hazard. Yet he was still able to cause Manchester United considerable problems at the Liberty Stadium last week, targeting areas his opposite number at Chelsea will look to exploit.

Against lesser opposition, United's midfield pairing of Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley can look adept, but when they're forced onto to back foot, it's a whole different story. Routledge proved that last week, while last season Luka Modric caused considerable damage against the pair in Real Madrid's 2-1 win at Old Trafford in the Champions League.

Cleverley is the weak link and, at times, can look out of sorts tactically. With someone like Hazard around, that will only be too evident.

Watch Eden Hazard's strike at Old Trafford last season

 

Last Season

Rafa Benitez has often been criticized throughout his career in management for failing to use substitutes effectively. In a surprising plot twist against Manchester United in the FA Cup last term, however, it was anything but.

Chelsea had got off to the worst possible start in the quarter-final at Old Trafford, trailing 2-0 within 11 minutes, leaving them staring defeat in the face.

Some would say bringing Hazard on just after the interval marks Benitez's tactical nous, others the Spaniard's shortcomings in not actually starting the Belgian in the place.

Whatever it was, Chelsea soon found themselves back in the game, with Hazard firing home an exquisite goal just seven minutes after his introduction, making it 2-1.

It was a moment that changed the game, and Hazard's influence only grew, with Ramires eventually grabbing the equalizer that forced a replay. Chelsea won that game 1-0 to advance to the semis.

What Hazard showed at Old Trafford last term is how vital he is to this Chelsea team, both tactically and as a creative source. From cruising in comfort, United's midfield were suddenly faced with having to track his runs and contain the threat of his creative brilliance, of which they failed.

It was simply a brilliant performance and he'll prove equally important for Chelsea come Monday.

Garry Hayes is Bleacher Report's lead Chelsea correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here @garryhayes

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