9. Eden Hazard
The 2015/16 season left a massive black hole in the diminutive Belgian’s CV who the season before, had led his team to a Carling Cup/League double and winning league POTY with his inhumane ability to decide tight games and to dehumanise defences. However, after having a campaign hampered by injury, poor performances, a goalless streak that lasted for half a season, many saw the 16/17 season as a form of redemption for the Belgium to retain his status as the league best and most electric player.
Under new manager Antonio Conte, the new 3 at the back allowed Hazard to play in more central zones where the new augmented structure of the team very much confused opposition when matched up against Chelsea/Hazard. The main quality of Hazard is the position less nature of him as an attacker. While some attackers in the BPL such as Mesut Özil/KDB can be categorised as 10s, Hazard has shown an ability to masquerade as both a #10, winger, false 9, and wide forward. This allows him to be the difference maker of the team, and one of the most valuable players in the league.
This is important to note, because what separates Hazard from the rest is he is not reliant on his teammates or any system to deliver. He is a player that you can give the ball too and move out of his way with his ability to play back to goal, electric pace as a dribbler and as primary ball handler which progresses him and his teammates so much more than others that it leaves him as the main decision maker which as shown with the way Chelsea won the title, ended up being the difference in most wins. That match winning and difference maker ability was put on display with Hazard big game record in 16/17. Hazard scored against City, United, Arsenal, in the league; an amazing feet for a player who plays such an influential role for his team’s attack and who are so reliant on him to deliver.
One of the main points of contention to Hazard is his end product which needs to be contextualised. Hazard finished with 16 goals and 5 assists which while good, is still seen as an area to improve on. Pundit Gary Neville has called Hazard out on this by saying he needs to create a ruthless streak in order to be compared to the Messi/Ronaldo of the world. As a fan, one of the main points of contention with Hazard are his shot numbers which for an elite player, are not near the level for him to have better goal scoring numbers. This is disappointing considering Hazard started the season with 7 shots on target (out of 14) in just his first 3 games compared to 14 SoT (out of 36) in 31 BPL games last season. Also, in the month of October, he had his best goal-scoring streak where he looked to be running in behind more and showing that more ruthless streak.
While it didn’t turn into such matters, my main point of contention with these arguments are the way we judge players like Hazard and the role of influence to a team, and how G/A can cloud such judgments on a player. My personal belief is that sole G/A metrics cannot determine a player like Hazard influence to a team. For instance, the image below shows Hazard chance creation map for the season. While in the season, Hazard only got 5 assists, a low assist count for a player who can be considered a playmaker but what it doesn’t highlight is how Hazard creates for a team.
A main criticism of Hazard is his eye for a final ball, but as we can see from his chance creation graph, Hazard with his dribbling skill gets his teams into the box, the most dangerous areas of the pitch to create scoring opportunities. This type of playmaking is sheer domination of half spaces, close control and ones that simply G/A metric can’t account for. This is the sheer value of Hazard, having that player that can progress his team into such situations and to penetrate it is so undervalued that criticisms labeling him as a “passive” player are so poor and misguided.
We simply cannot view the art of playmaking under one paradigm, one where only final ball and through balls count, there are different ways to have influence for a team and Hazard chance creation is so unique to him and is what makes him special. In a perfect world, would we love to see Hazard have more G/A and have a more ruthless streak in accordance with his role to the team? Of course, but these things take time and considering Chelsea have now won 2 BPL in 3 years surrounding Hazard shows the value of the postionless difference maker. These players are what decide titles, decide an average team from a good team etc.
I will leave it on this note, Wembley, 22nd April, Chelsea vs Spurs. Its 2-2, not a lot separates the two teams, but Hazard comes on. Goal and an assist then follows, but it’s this moment which is what highlights Hazard as a player. That ability to say ‘get out of my way, I am going to win this for us’ is what ended up separating us between a very good Spurs team who were beating up on Chelsea prior.
At the end of the day, football is a simple game: we have Eden Hazard, they don’t.
By: Daniel Federico