Following the opening day defeat to Burnley, most of the Stamford Bridge faithful were keeping their fingers and toes crossed for an imminent Eden Hazard return.
The subsequent four games have produced 12 points (three league wins and a Champions League triumph) and the return to full fitness of Chelsea’s number 10 is adding to the feel-good factor around Stamford Bridge at the moment.
When Hazard broke his ankle on international duty back in June, few thought he would be anywhere near ready to play with just four rounds of Premier League fixtures completed. But the Belgian has made two substitute appearances as he steps up his full recovery and this weekend’s clash with Arsenal looks to have provided the perfect opportunity for the 2014-15 PFA Player of the Year to return.
What Eden Hazard Brings to This Chelsea XI:
‘Attacking the Opposition’
Few players were as effective as Hazard in the Premier League in forward areas last season, and he created, on average, over three chances per game for his team – in addition to his 16 league goal contribution. A massive part of Hazard’s game is his ability to beat a man in tight areas – he averaged over five successful dribbles per game last term, which was an essential element of Conte’s title-winning 3-4-3 formation.
Despite the departure of Nemanja Matic, Chelsea have recruited in holding midfield positions, with Danny Drinkwater and Tiemoue Bakayoko brought in to lighten the load on N’Golo Kante. Whichever combination Conte opts for in the middle of the park, the system is designed to give Hazard the freedom to roam wherever he wishes in between the lines of the opposition.
‘World Class Talent’
For as much as Chelsea have a wealth of attacking options at their disposal, Hazard is the one player in the Blues line up that genuinely strikes fear into the opposition. His shooting accuracy was 21% last season and he achieved 74.5% of his attempted dribbles successfully and that ‘X’ factor makes him one of the first names on Antonio Conte’s team sheet.
During his time at Stamford Bridge, Hazard has won the Premier League twice, the League Cup and the Europa League and is driven to succeed at the highest level. After the departure of John Terry this summer, Chelsea are looking for leaders on the field and the enigmatic 26-year-old leads by example with his all-action performances.
Whether or not Hazard is fully fit to play 90 minutes against Arsenal on Sunday remains to be seen, as his only competitive minutes so far this season have been for Belgium and substitute appearances for Chelsea, but having their number 10 back will come as a huge boost for the Blues and their fans.
If he can replicate his performances from last season and lead Chelsea to a second consecutive Premier League crown under Antonio Conte, Nemanja Matic and Diego Costa will be long forgotten about on the King’s Road.
Header image: “Eden Hazard / Эден Азар” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Aleksandr Osipov