How should Conte utilise Eden Hazard at Chelsea?
Antonio Conte has a lot of selection issues ahead of the season, and how best to utilise Eden Hazard is among them. There are many good attacking options at the club and it will be interesting to see how Conte lines up in the final third. He is famous for his 3-5-2 formation, while in the past he has used a 4-2-4 formation. Hazard could fit into both but in different ways.
Last season, Eden Hazard was poor for the majority of the campaign and his performances reflected the slump suffered by the team as a whole. Towards the end of the season, he improved significantly and started to look like the player who won the PFA player of the year award in 2015. His solo goal against Liverpool was a highlight and reminded the world of his talent.
He then went to Euro 2016 with Belgium, helping his country reach the quarter-final of the competition. Hazard continued to return to his best, scoring once and contributing four assists during the tournament. In the last few days, he made his first Chelsea appearance in pre-season against Real Madrid and bagged two goals.
This season is important for Hazard as he needs to add consistency to his game in order to become one of the best players in the world. He has the talent, but the motivation and application have been lacking. The last few months have shown an upturn in form and he needs to carry that into the new season at Chelsea. It isn’t known how Conte will use Hazard, but as the club’s most dangerous attacking midfielder, he needs to be given a prominent role in the side.
Antonio Conte is a pragmatic manager, who is tactically astute and he will use a variety of formations as he gets to know his players. They currently don’t have the defenders that suit Conte’s favoured 3-5-2 formation, therefore I don’t expect him to use it unless they bring in one or two defenders before the deadline. They are likely to use either 4-2-4 or 4-2-3-1, as theses will get the best out of those at the club.
In either of these formations, expect Hazard to be used on the left wing as there isn’t an opportunity to use him in a central role. There aren’t many other options to play on the left in the squad, making it Hazard’s most likely starting position. In a 4-2-4, he would be used on the left of the attack and be expected to track back making it a 4-4-2 when out of possession.
This was used frequently by Conte in his early managerial career and the signing of Ngolo Kante makes it possible, as he thrives in a midfield two. His work rate allowed Riyad Mahrez to excel last season and he could have a similar effect on Hazard. As Willian is likely to be on the other wing, who is a better defensive worker than Hazard, Conte may give the Belgian more of a free role on the left in this formation.
Conte is also likely to use 4-2-3-1 at times as it’s a formation that the players know well and are comfortable carrying out. Although over time, Conte will want to establish his own way of playing, he won’t rush as it could damage results if he does. If he opts for this, Hazard is still likely to be used on the left, with Cesc Fabregas in the free role behind the striker.
There is a possibility for Hazard to be used in a free role in a 4-2-3-1, but it is more likely he will continue to be used on the left wing. The arrival of Conte could have a positive effect on Hazard’s game, especially in terms of work rate and defensive contribution. This part of the left wing role has always been a weakness of Hazard, but Conte is an excellent coach and could enable the Belgian to take his game to the next level.
It is impossible to predict how Conte will line up, as there are many options available to him and many expect him to change formations throughout the season as he starts to understand his squad. He will want to give Hazard a free role, but he would be best suited to that in a 3-5-2. Until Conte gets the players he needs, it is most likely that Hazard will continue to be used on the wing.
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