A new manager and summer signings has brought renewed optimism to Stamford Bridge after Chelsea’s shameful defence of their Premier League title in 2015/16. But despite this, Chelsea’s ambitions this season seem to rest entirely on whether Eden Hazard can find the form that saw him named the best player in the country in 2014/2015.
The Belgian winger came alive for the final two games of last season and delivered arguably the best individual performance of Euro 2016 in the 3-0 win against Hungary, but failed to make any sort of mark as the Red Devils crashed out against Wales at the quarter-finals. He ended the competition with 4 assists in 5 games, the most in the competition and then during preseason looked the business including a brace against Real Madrid and a strike against Werder Bremen.
So is he back?
You would like to think last season was an off season for the Belgian winger after he failed to set the league alight like we were used to seeing. The off field issues with former manager Jose Mourinho were evident, however he failed to improve after Mourinho left with his form only really picking up at the end of the season, including a memorable strike against London rivals Tottenham.
If Hazard doesn’t play neither do Chelsea, it’s as simple as that. He’s become irreplaceable and despite his poor showing last term, Chelsea fans fear the day Real Madrid inevitably come calling.
In their title winning season in 2015 he was a thorn in every team’s side with the ability to single handedly win games, something the side lacked last season and it’s something new manager Antonio Conte will have to resolve.
His performances in France suggested he is on his way back, his display v Hungary was the Hazard of old, picking up the ball from deep and forcing defenders to commit, playing one twos, running off the ball and making a positive effect not only offensively but defensively too.
His speed of thought seems to have come back whether that be his timing of his runs, his passes or his movement off the ball to create space for his team-mates. It’s clear to see his mojo is back, last season playing seemed like a chore for Hazard, especially annoying for a player of that calibre as the game seems to be second nature to him but now he’s back to the free flowing, exuberant and flamboyant player.
The likes of Oscar, Willian, Costa and Fabregas certainly do their jobs but Hazard has the ability to do the extra, the unexpected. It’s why the club need to hang onto him for as long as they can and why Conte will be hoping for him to be in his best form when West Ham United come to Stamford Bridge on Monday night.
No Champions League football will be a blow but it will allow Hazard and Conte to work on the style and system they want to play. At times the winger looked lethargic and tired during the last campaign, so with less games it should mean a freshness in the legs for all the players especially Hazard.
He isn’t perfect but he is perfect for Chelsea, a man who can deliver the unexpected and lead the side carrying the creative burden. So Conte and Chelsea will be hoping to for more of the old Hazard this season.