Chelsea Need a Better Option Opposite Eden Hazard

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Updated: March 22, 2017

Eden Hazard is world class. His dribbling skills, finishing and outstanding linkup play provide Chelsea with an attacking threat few in football can offer. Even his fellow attackers at Chelsea struggle to keep up with him at times, which is concerning. Despite a recent drop in form, it’s hard to make a case for Diego Costa’s suitable replacement, but that’s not necessarily the case with Willian and Pedro.

The Supporting Cast

The Brazilian and the Spaniard are the two current options available for Antonio Conte to play opposite Hazard. Both are good players but neither can be described as great. Both are adored by Conte because of their work-rate and willingness to engage in the industrious side of the game, but neither produce at a consistent rate.

Truth be told, neither are actually that good defensively. Their work-rate is terrific, but – particularly on Pedro’s part – their flamboyant, arms-flailing-type running covers over the cracks. Positionally, they often get drawn to the ball and force our wing-backs or N’Golo Kanté to compensate.

Against Stoke City both Willian and Pedro were asked to step up in the absence of Hazard. Apart from Willian’s cheeky free-kick, neither really took the game by the scruff of the neck, which is a microcosm of their respective seasons.

Direct Comparison

In the league, Hazard has 11 goals and four assists. For every 90 minutes he plays, the Belgian averages 2.4 shots, 2 key passes and 4.6 dribbles. He’s fouled 2.9 times per game and makes 49.3 passes with a success rate of 84%.

In comparison, Willian has six goals and one assist. Per match, he averages 1.5 shots, 1.6 key passes and 1.8 dribbles. He’s fouled 0.7 times and makes 25.6 passes at a completion rate of 83.4%.

Pedro has a higher production with seven goals and seven assists in the league. His averages per match? 1.6 shots, 1 key pass, 1.6 dribbles. The Spaniard is fouled 1.1 times a game and makes 25.8 passes at 83.3% completion.

Though they’re often seen tracking back, our wingers’ defensive work shouldn’t necessarily be a priority in the current formation. At least one of the wing-backs is tasked with providing defensive cover and, in Kanté and Nemanja Matic, the defense have a formidable shield in front of them.

Hazard often gets the brunt of the blame and criticism when things go wrong for the Blues. He’s the star and it’s fair enough, to a certain extent. Pedro and Willian are decent dribblers, albeit clumsy at times. Both are average passers of the ball who regularly break down counter attacks. It’s infuriating, yet it seems to largely go unnoticed – that is, until Hazard does similarly.

Their quality comes out in spurts but, more often than not, they’ll be quiet for multiple games in a row before scoring a goal or two. As I said before, consistency is their biggest deficiency and the question remains whether either could step up a level, particularly with the amount of games Chelsea will likely be playing next season.

Positioning

Part of the issue with how Pedro and Willian operate in the current formation is their tendency to drop deep and move centrally. We see this in illustrated passmaps from @11Tegen11:

Conte has a decision to make for the future. With the players currently at his disposal he could choose to switch to a 3-5-2, or the more attacking 3-4-1-2 – which passmaps show our current formation resembles. Cesc Fàbregas could come in as an extra midfielder with Hazard playing upfront alongside Costa. Or Hazard could play behind an attacking partnership of Costa and Michy Batshuayi.

Willian and Pedro are good options, for now. They do the necessary work and are having a productive season as a tandem. Still, they can most often be dealt with by one defender, leaving Hazard double-teamed – and, recently, fouled – by opposition players.

Future Options

It is likely that Conte will stick with what’s working for the moment before loading up on recruits in the summer. The club could look to bring in a fluid attacker with great dribbling ability to play in the current formation – Bernardo Silva, James Rodríguez and Dominic Berardi come to mind. It seems Conte doesn’t quite trust Fàbregas, so either a box-to-box midfielder with the ability to press, or a more mobile, passing option could also be pursued – any of Isco, Radja Nainggolan, Mahmoud Dahoud and Franck Kessie would fit this description.

Most fans enjoy the spectacular goals, work-rate and flair we sometimes see from Willian and Pedro, and that’s absolutely fine. The problem is that they aren’t world-class, consistent players creative enough to play in the deeper role they’re currently occupying.

Imagine the damage that could be done with Alexis Sanchez opposite Hazard – that’s the standard Chelsea must be looking for.

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