Analysing Eden Hazard's man of the match display for Chelsea against West Ham
He’s back. The Eden Hazard of 2014/15 has returned, and Premier League defences should be terrified. With a man of the match display, the Belgian showed no evidence of the form that plagued him and his teammates last season as they swept West Ham United aside in Antonio Conte’s first match in charge at Stamford Bridge.
With 12 take-ons attempted against poor Michail Antonio at right-back, nine of which were successful, Hazard has his confidence back and it was clearly on show. That success rate of 75% is higher than his average in any previous season at Chelsea and in one game alone it represents over 10% of his successful take-ons managed in all of last season, all in 85 minutes alone.
The performance was improved further when the 25-year-old slotted home from 12 yards with a penalty struck high and central to give Adrian no chance. That strike puts Hazard one quarter of his way towards matching his goal tally last season and he will be desperate to return to double figures as should be expected of a player of his quality and experience.
Hazard had been rumoured to figure more centrally under Antonio Conte, but played mainly out wide on the left on Monday night, as Oscar took up the more central role. It will be interesting to see whether or not Conte will experiment with Hazard centrally, particularly given his superb performance on the left.
Should Conte do so, it is likely to be once he has brought in another striker to play alongside Diego Costa, and he will look to take advantage of Hazard’s ability to make something out of nothing, as well as his clinical finishing which he has shown hints of during pre-season after going missing last term.
This season will be vital for Hazard, who will be wanting to show that he still has the ability to develop into a player of the quality to compete with the likes of Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar for the top individual awards as he had once been tipped for. Based on Monday night’s performance, he could well be returning to that level.
With Conte taking Hazard off with five minutes left to play with the scores still level at 1-1, it seems that Hazard is not yet fully fit after only rejoining training a fortnight ago having been involved in Euro 2016 with his nation. With such a promising performance produced by the Belgian when he is not even firing on all cylinders, Chelsea fans will be counting the days until he returns to full fitness.
There are plenty of reasons for Blues fans to be getting excited after Hazard’s display, particularly alongside the defensive solidity of N’Golo Kante, which show the importance of midfield in an Antonio Conte system in terms of defensive and offensive actions. With confidence and form seemingly returning, Eden Hazard could just be the man to fire his Chelsea side to the title come May.
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