Eden Hazard is one of several potential candidates for the PFA Player of the year award. The Analyst runs the rule over his claims for the Premier League’s top individual honour.
Last May, after watching his Chelsea side bow out of the Champions League at the hands of Atletico Madrid, Jose Mourinho offered a scathing assessment of his star playmaker Eden Hazard, saying, “He is not the kind of player ready to sacrifice himself 100% for the team”.
Those were harsh words for a manager to speak about one of the brightest talents in world football. It is impossible to know what impact those words had on Hazard, but what is clear is that, far from getting the hump about them, the Belgian has taken his game to a new level this season, becoming an almost unplayable attacking force while also adding an improved discipline and work rate to his game.
Coming off the back of a World Cup where he didn’t shine his brightest, Hazard has enjoyed by far his best season in the Premier League. The bare numbers – 11 goals and six assists- are exceptional, albeit not at the level of a Ronaldo or Henry in their primes, but it is in the construction of an all-round game where Hazard deserves most credit.
Mourinho places far greater defensive demands on his wingers than Sir Alex Ferguson ever placed on his superstar winger, and Hazard, once a reluctant pupil, has embraced his manager’s teachings this season. He has already surpassed last season’s totals in tackles, interceptions, and clearances – with eight games left to play.
If this new defensive figure has hampered his attacking prowess he has hidden it well. Despite the big money arrivals of Alexis Sanchez and Angel Di Maria to the Premier League – from Barcalona and Real Madrid, respectively – Hazard has proven himself the most consistently effective attacking midfielder in English football.
In addition to his goals he has laid on more chances for teammates (79) then any other player this season – including teammate Cesc Fabregas, who leads the league with 16 assists. He has done this while dealing with being the main focus of opposition defenders every time he steps on the pitch. Premier League stats show that nobody has been fouled more than the 86 times opposing defenders have stopped his progress.
His response to this rough treatment highlights an underrated quality in Hazard, his fearlessness. Many talented players have struggled to deal with being kicked repeatedly (Jose Antonio Reyes comes to mind). Hazard seems to relish it. He has attempted – and completed – over 40 more dribbles than any other player (135 of 223), displaying a refusal to shy away from his natural game. His success rate of over 60% is also exceptional.
Chelsea appear set to recapture the Premier League title for the since 2010. If they do many will point to the Mourinho factor as being the key cog, or alternatively suggest Diego Costa’s goals as the defining factor. Both of those arguments have merit, but the performances of Hazard have been as important as any in their success.