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Eden Hazard: A Season Review
One of the first things Chelsea did in the summer of 2012 after the UEFA Champions League triumph was to secure the signature of a certain Belgian playmaker from Lille. Eden Hazard arrived in England with a lot of hype and a bag of tricks. He has been a revelation since then. Hazard had an outstanding last season, one which culminated with him being declared as Chelsea’s Player of the Year and PFA Young Player of the Year.
Hazard appeared in almost every Premier League game for Chelsea, entrusted with the task of breaking down the opposition defense and increasing his minutes count by almost 260 from his first season in England.
Hazard started mostly on the left wing, forming a hands-on partnership with Cesar Azpilicueta transforming Chelsea’s left flank into absolutely lethal. It wasn’t a surprise Hazard completed the most number of passes among all Chelsea players last season. He had been influential and imperative to Chelsea’s cause.
Mourinho employed two completely different tactical systems last season – one which required the players to be proactive and another where the team set up as a counter-attacking unit. Hazard excelled in both. His technical ability shone through when Chelsea controlled possession, whereas his lightning-swift pace and capacity to take-on opposition defenders came to forefront during counter-attacks.
Eden ranked among the top three players in the Premier League when it came to final third passes, with only Santi Cazorla and David Silva ahead of him.
The likes of Cazorla and Nasri have way more total passes (open play + crosses) next to their names, but Hazard beats others by a significant margin when it comes to proportion of passes in the final third. A staggering 56.72% of Hazard’s passes came in the final third. This, in turn, led to Hazard being the most creative player in Premier League with 92 total chances created throughout the season.
On an average, Hazard created a chance in open play every 32.17 minutes, at a rate faster than any other player in the Premier League. The front line’s finishing skills, or lack of it, was the primary reason behind the Belgian wizard not having double digits in his assist figures. Hazard’s direct play improved tremendously under Jose Mourinho as he completed more number of take-ons than many in the league attempted. Eden successfully dribbled past an opponent 132 times, more than doubling his numbers from the previous season (62). The successful take-ons and flurry of created chances are testimony to the fact that for most parts of last season, Eden Hazard was arguably the best attacking player on pitch for Chelsea.
Although he started slowly, Eden came into his own as the season progressed. His exchanges with Oscar were often a delight to watch. One of Hazard’s finest performances in the Chelsea shirt came against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light when he dismantled the Black Cats’ defence with effortless ease, in spite of being frequently double teamed against.
This is what Gus Poyet had to say about Hazard after the game: “He was amazing. I don’t ever remember a player playing against a side I have managed as well as he did — no matter what we did we couldn’t cope with him. It’s as good as a performance as I’ve seen from anyone all season. We tried everything — we man-marked him, we put two up against him, three, tried other tactics but there was nothing we could do.”
Before arriving at Chelsea, Hazard was often doubted for his workrate off the ball. Under Jose, a different Hazard was on display as he consistently tracked back and helped out Azpilicueta in defense. It didn’t just signify the presence of an extra body while soaking up pressure, but provided the team with an effective counter-attacking outlet.
The enthralling aspect of Hazard’s game last season was his goals. He didn’t just increase his tally from the season before, but top scored for the club with 14 goals in the league. This season, Hazard registered more shots on target, an exemplar of which was his hattrick against Newcastle at Stamford Bridge. Considering the fact that his average positioning is in the final third of the pitch and that he regularly takes on & beats defenders, Hazard needs to shoot more to produce an even greater impact on the game.
Towards the end of the season, Hazard picked up a couple of injuries and slowed down due to fatigue. He was at fault for not being attentive enough during Atlético’s goals in the second leg of UEFA Champions League semi-finals. He is just 23 and still learning the ropes of the trade. However, there is no denying his dominant displays through the season played a crucial role in the challenge for the title and he totally deserved the individual honours bestowed upon him from the Football Association and the legion of Chelsea fans. Next season, Chelsea will look forward to the little Belgian weaving his magic again, this time in his favorite no. 10 shirt.
“People like Eden bring the magic and win matches in one action. They have the flair and the artist’s touch of the football. At the same time, he was not just that. He had a big evolution and he scored more goals than before. His work-rate for the team improved a lot too so, for a player like him, he deserved it and the fact he was recognised by the fans gives him for sure more appetite for the next season to be even better.”
– Jose Mourinho, in Chelsea’s 2013/14 Season Review DVD.