“He was voted one of the top 10 players in Europe last year. In my opinion he should be in the top three, not in the top 10.” This is what Jose Mourinho claimed in July 2015 after Eden Hazard was the driving force behind Chelsea’s 2014/15 title-winning campaign.
The Belgian grabbed 14 goals (19 in all competitions) and 9 assists as well as winning the PFA Player of the Year. However after his title winning goal against Crystal Palace in April of that year, Eden Hazard went a full 365 days without a goal before recapturing his form this season.
The Conte Difference
2015/16 was a year to forget for Chelsea. By mid-December, they found themselves in 16th place, just above the relegation zone. Jose Mourinho, the man who had guided Chelsea to three Premier League titles, had lost the dressing room and key players such as Hazard and Costa weren’t performing.
Mourinho was sacked on 17th December which led to improved performances by Chelsea; however Eden Hazard still had to wait until early April before scoring his first goal that season.
Despite regaining form in the last few weeks of the campaign, scoring a wonder goal against Liverpool and ‘the goal that won Leicester the league’ against Tottenham, Eden Hazard only managed 0.13 goals per game throughout the season with 14 shots on target and 3 assists.
More Support Off The Pitch
So far this season, Eden Hazard has been instrumental in Chelsea’s impressive form and grip on 1st place. He has managed 0.4 goals per game (more than triple than what he achieved last season) with 25 shots on target and 4 assists (and we’ve still got 2 months to go!)
One reason why Eden Hazard could have returned to form is that there is no off field distractions or criticism. Last season, it was reported that the Chelsea players had a poor relationship with then manager Jose Mourinho.
After his sacking, Guus Hiddink was placed in temporary charge and results started to improve, however Eden Hazard was still receiving a lot of criticism from both pundits and fans.
The majority of footballers will find it hard to play anywhere near their best when everyone is against them and this could have had a big effect on Hazard.
This season he’s been allowed to do what he does best with limited distractions and constant praise from all around.
Less Defensive Responsibility On The Pitch
Another reason why Hazard is a different player this season is that he has been given more freedom by Antonio Conte. Mourinho is known as a coach who likes structure and will often prioritize defensive responsibilities from all of his starting 11.
Whilst building from the back is understandable, upon entering the club Conte realised that the main strengths in his side were the attacking players and using them effectively was crucial to rebuilding the Chelsea side.
Since Conte has become manager, Hazard has been doing less work defensively, meaning that he can remain a threat on the counter attack and is always an outlet upon retaining possession.
The puppet strings that were tightened during Mourinho’s last few months at Chelsea have been cut by Conte who allows Hazard alongside players such as Pedro to do as they please.
Why do you think Eden Hazard has been back to his best this season?