What Hazard's Injury Means for Willian, Mata

Jerrad PetersWorld Football Staff WriterSeptember 3, 2013

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 01:  Eden Hazard of Chelsea runs with the ball during the FA Cup with Budweiser Sixth Round Replay match between Chelsea and Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on April 1, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Chelsea playmaker Eden Hazard pulled up after tweaking an old Achilles problem while on international duty with Belgium on Tuesday, and the injury has raised questions about everything from the Blues’ treatment scheme to the squad options available to each of Marc Wilmots and Jose Mourinho.

“Hazard was fit, but after a few minutes during training he was suffering from an old injury to the Achilles tendon,” Belgium manager Wilmots told the newspaper HLN after Tuesday’s training session. (GiveMeSport.com)

He added: “A few weeks ago [Hazard] apparently received some injections to treat the injury. I was surprised because he was fit.”

Of immediate concern is the 22-year-old’s availability to Les Diables Rouges, who will face Scotland on Friday in a World Cup qualifier. Victory would see them increase their stranglehold on first place in Group A, and without Hazard, Wilmots will be forced to dip into a pool of playmakers that also includes the likes of Nacer Chadli, Dries Mertens, Marouane Fellaini and Kevin De Bruyne.

Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho has similar strength of depth at Chelsea, and if Hazard is still sidelined by the time the Premier League giants visit Everton on September 14, he may opt to hand a first start of the season to one of Willian and Juan Mata.

Willian, who was acquired from Anzhi Makhachkala for £30 million late last month, has yet to make his Chelsea debut, but with Hazard leaving a vacancy to Oscar’s left, the Brazilian will no doubt be keen to get some playing time in his natural position.

A crafty attacker who thrives in the sort of direct, quick-passing system Mourinho is trying to engender at Stamford Bridge, Willian is likely the closest thing to a like-for-like replacement for Hazard, although his selection would only raise more questions about the future of Juan Mata, who has only a handful of uninspiring minutes of football against Aston Villa under his belt so far this season.

A two-time Player of the Year at the club, Mata has curiously been overlooked by Mourinho since the Portuguese made his Chelsea return in the spring, and on Monday was being linked with a move to Paris Saint-Germain. (The Independent)

But in the run-up to the transfer deadline, Mourinho vowed the 25-year-old remained in his plans, telling Eurosport Mata was a “very important player” for Chelsea and that all parties wanted the Spain international to remain at the club.

Restoring Mata to the starting lineup, should Hazard miss out on the Everton trip, would certainly go some way toward backing up his words, but Mourinho also has new signings Andre Schurrle, Kevin De Bruyne and Samuel Eto’o anticipating significant minutes in the first team, and one of his options in Hazard’s absence would be to move Schurrle to Oscar’s left and deploy Eto’o on the right.

Such are the selection conundrums Mourinho faces given the myriad of attacking options at his disposal, and the absence of one of his best players through injury would only raise more questions.

Who are the manager’s preferred players? What aspects of their play does he rate? How will he appease their ambitions for playing time over the course of the season?

And, more to the point, can he?