On the heels of a frustrating ousting by Atletico Madrid in Wednesday's Champions League semifinal, Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho could have used an evening without controversy. It seems midfielder Eden Hazard was not ready to oblige.
Speaking after Chelsea's 3-1 loss at Stamford Bridge, Hazard sent what sounded like a shot at the bow toward his manager's tactics.
"Chelsea are not made to play football," Hazard told beIN Sport, via Goal.com. "We're good on the counter, a little bit like Real against Bayern."
Chelsea, who came into Wednesday evening's match only needing a win to advance to the final, laid an egg in a thorough beatdown from Atletico Madrid. The Blues struck first with a Fernando Torres goal in the 36th minute, but then watched as Atletico scored three unanswered goals before a shell-shocked Stamford Bridge crowd.
Atletico will vie for their first Champions League crown against Real Madrid on May 24. It is only their second European Cup final in history.
Chelsea's match strategy was defined by an inability to make progress on the attack. They attempted 16 shots to Atletico's 13, but managed to see only five of those reach goal. Atletico were far more efficient, controlled the pace and generally looked like the far-better-prepared team.
Much of the criticism in wake of the loss has lain at the feet of Mourinho, the Portuguese manager who came over last summer amid a high-profile courtship. Chelsea management, who had allowed Mourinho to bolt once prior, lavished the roster with high-profile (and high-cost) talent designed to win Premier League and Champions League titles.
Barring good fortune in England over the next couple weeks, Blues supporters will get neither.
While it's far too soon for rumors of a sacking to abound—Chelsea are second in Premier League and made a spirited run to the UCL semifinals, after all—his tactics have begun eroding patience. Ed Aarons of The Guardian provided the quote from Hazard that possibly gives the root of the star's frustrations:
Mourinho has largely blanched at the criticism of his managerial style. Following Sunday's 2-0 win over Liverpool, he dismissively addressed his critics while defending his defense-first outlook.
"Football is full of philosophers, people who understand much more than me. Amazing," Mourinho told reporters. "But the reality is the reality. A team that doesn't defend well doesn't have many chances to win."
Having someone like Hazard so outwardly critical might change that tune.
Hazard, 23, is one of the world's most promising young midfielders. He has a flair for making spectacular plays whether positioned at a midfield spot or on the wings, where he uses his elusiveness and athleticism to create for himself and teammates. The Belgium national leads Chelsea with 14 goals and seven assist during club play.
Earlier this month, Hazard won the PFA's Young Player of the Year award. He is the first player in club history to win while playing his entire season with Chelsea. (Scott Parker won in 2003-04, but split his year with the Blues and Charlton Athletic.)
Conspiracy theorists may say Hazard is subtly hinting he's readying for a summer exit. Rumors about a potential departure from Hazard, particularly to Paris Saint Germain, via the Mirror, have been percolating in recent weeks. If he wants out, goading the notoriously hot-tempered Mourinho in the press may be a way to start.
For now, though, we'll wait and see. Hazard may not be 100 percent thrilled with Mourinho's tactics, but they've allowed him to thrive this season and it's hard to get an accurate gauge of a player's mindset so soon after a devastating loss.
Still, it'd be understandable if Mourinho were looking wistfully at his old stomping grounds at Real Madrid right about now.
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