Eden Hazard is set to return to the Chelsea starting XI in the Premier League this weekend, and after last week’s dour 0-0 draw with Arsenal, this comes at a perfect time for Blues fans. Chelsea have endured a mixed start to the season, with the 2-1 victory at Wembley over Spurs the early highlight.
However, a shock 3-2 opening day defeat to Burnley, a side heavily tipped to be relegated at the start of the season, along with an unconvincing away win at Leicester and last week’s draw, where the Blues were considerably lucky to escape with an equal share of the points, means we are still waiting to see the form that resulted in Chelsea being crowned champions back in May.
A large part of this inconsistency is down to the absence of the tricky Belgian winger. Hazard has been a guaranteed name in the Chelsea first team since he signed for a reported £32million back in 2012, but the 26-year-old has missed the opening weeks of the season following ankle surgery over the summer. Hazard’s absence was most sorely felt last week, where Chelsea were expected to dismantle an Arsenal team in a similar fashion to which Liverpool did a few weeks earlier. However, despite a team featuring the likes of Willian, Pedro and Cesc Fàbregas, Chelsea lacked any sense of spark and purposeful creativity – producing only one decisive chance, where Pedro failed to beat the onrushing Petr Cech.
Hazard excellent in Carabao Cup test
Hazard did make a brief cameo off the bench against Arsenal but was still in the process of gaining back full match fitness. But, much to the joy and relief of Chelsea fans, the Belgian produced a sensational performance in his side’s comfortable win over Championship side Nottingham Forest in the League Cup, his first competitive start for the Blues this season. Hazard produced a fantastic run to set up Michy Batshuayi’s second goal and came within inches of scoring as a text-book shot cannoned back off the post.
This return to action bodes well for when Chelsea face Stoke in a tough away encounter at the bet365 Stadium. Hazard is expected to make his return to Premier League action, with Pedro or Willian dropping to the bench. The talented Belgian will likely set up on the left-hand side of Antonio Conte’s favoured 3-4-3 formation, and will seek to alleviate the goal-scoring burden currently placed on Alvaro Morata’s shoulders. If Hazard can begin to recapture his form of last season then Chelsea will be looking to make it three back-to-back away victories, with Stoke facing a defensive crisis ahead of the visit of the champions.
Stoke’s expected makeshift defensive line should provide Hazard with plenty of opportunities to fully get his groove back in the Premier League. Whilst Hazard is not anticipated to complete the full 90 minutes as he continues his return to match fitness, he can certainly offer the necessary spark to fire Chelsea to victory after the disappointment of last week. He could provide the flare, skill and tenacity that was missing against Arsenal and offer the Blues the perfect cushion ahead of next week’s crunch Champions League game with Diego Costa’s new club, Atletico Madrid.
Header image: “Eden Hazard / Эден Азар” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Aleksandr Osipov