Why Eden Hazard Will Be Chelsea's Player to Watch in Final Months of Season

Garry HayesFeatured ColumnistFebruary 23, 2016

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Eden Hazard of Chelsea celebrates after he scores a goal from a free kick to make it 4-1 with his team mates during the Emirates FA Cup match between Chelsea and Manchester City at Stamford Bridge on February 21, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images)
Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images

Chelsea's Eden Hazard is off-form, and we're expecting him to be off this summer to either France or Spain.

There are conflicting reports about where the Belgian's future lies. According to his current manager Guus Hiddink, Hazard wants to stay at Chelsea and will remain with the club.

"He is very keen to be here," Hiddink said at his press conference last week. "He has extended his contract [last February], he is happy here, his family are happy here."

But Hazard himself has fanned the flames of speculation surrounding his future after quotes appeared in Le Parisien (via Sky Sports), suggesting Paris Saint-Germain could be his next destination.

"It is difficult to say no to PSG," Hazard is reported to have said ahead of Chelsea's Champions League clash with the Ligue 1 champions only last week.

Reports also linking Hazard with Real Madrid refuse to go away. The Guardian's Nick Ames reported that Hazard's desire to work with boyhood hero Zinedine Zidane—now in charge at Real—will fuel a move to the Bernabeu this summer.

Chelsea's Belgian midfielder Eden Hazard runs with the ball during the English FA Cup fifth round football match between Chelsea and Manchester City at Stamford Bridge in London on February 21, 2016.  / AFP / ADRIAN DENNIS / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. N
AFP/Getty Images

The truth is that nobody is quiet sure what will happen other than Hazard himself. It's for that reason the final few months of the current campaign are going to be fascinating viewing where the Belgian is concerned.

Is he playing for the Chelsea badge? Is he playing for a move away from Stamford Bridge? Can Chelsea do enough to convince him that his future remains in west London? Does Hazard want to stay?

Those are the questions that we're looking to answer, with everything Hazard does and says being dissected like he's in his very own episode of CSI: London.

It shouldn't be the case, of course. We're talking about an exceptional talent, but it's everything off the field that has dictated the narrative of Hazard's story this season.

That's the horrible reality that has come to define Chelsea's torrid campaign.

From sweeping the board with his personal accolades last season, Hazard has been a shadow of the player we saw in Chelsea's title triumph. He was the catalyst for that success, and in many ways, his dramatic loss of form has been a big reason for the troubles this team faces now.

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Bertrand Traore of Chelsea is congratulated by teammate Eden Hazard (R) after scoring his team's fifth goal during The Emirates FA Cup fifth round match between Chelsea and Manchester City at Stamford Bridge on February 21,
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Without Hazard, Chelsea have lacked any sort of dynamism. Chelsea were never expansive in the way some of their rivals are, such as Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City; without Hazard, Chelsea have become even less so.

Jose Mourinho preferred a rigid structure, one built on a sound defensive foundation that encouraged his side to hit opponents on the counter. Hazard provided the magic to the formula, so without him doing that, Chelsea have been found wanting.

The likes of Willian have stepped up, but despite the way he has impressed, the Brazilian still lacks the same creative edge Hazard brings. Willian's game has never been about the fancy stuff; his duty has always been to allow Hazard to be the superstar attraction.

When it worked, Chelsea's system was there to be marveled. There wasn't a better team in England all season, as the league table showed. Mourinho's Blues led the Premier League from the opening weekend and didn't surrender their position for a single day, let alone a week.

When we think of champions, it's that sort of dominance that we expect. Chelsea were ruthless, and no other team was a match for them. For all their riches, City didn't get close; despite their perceived self-righteousness, Arsenal were even further behind.

This term has seen that all unravel, and Hazard's been right at the very heart of it. He's gone from beauty to the beast, and with or without him next season, Chelsea are going to be feeling the effects of it.

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Eden Hazard of Chelsea is congratulated by teammate Willian (L) after scoring his team's fourth goal during The Emirates FA Cup fifth round match between Chelsea and Manchester City at Stamford Bridge on February 21, 2016 i
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

As March fast approaches, Chelsea's season isn't over. They have plenty to play for, yet it's more to do with the mess they have created than anything else.

Hiddink's side aren't going to qualify for next year's Champions League via the Premier League's top four. Now they need to pull off some small miracles to ensure they get in through the back door. Chelsea must win the Champions League in order to be a part of it next year; they also need to win the FA Cup just to be sure of a place in Europe at all (lifting that trophy will provide Europa League qualification).

How this season finishes will determine just how successful the next few years will be for Chelsea. Despite all the billions rolling into English football, without competing at the highest level on the continent, the club isn't going to have the clout of old when it comes to the transfer market.

Attracting the star names that Roman Abramovich craves is going to be that much harder. Keeping Hazard at the club will also figure into that equation if oblivion strikes.

So how will the Belgian react? Is he going to be content, as he knows he can get Champions League football regardless of Chelsea's fate? Or will he rediscover his Midas touch to salvage Chelsea from this wreck of a season?

How pretty it will be to watch is all down to Hazard, but either way it's going to be fascinating.

 

Garry Hayes is Bleacher Report's lead Chelsea correspondent. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow him on Twitter @garryhayes