There can be no argument that Eden Hazard is one of the most technically gifted players the Premier League has seen in recent years; the Belgian has been pivotal in the seasons gone by and has begun life under Sarri in sensational fashion. While Hazard’s form tends to fluctuate in a similar pattern to his team’s overall form, fans of the Blues are seeing the Chelsea man reach his full potential while under the management of Maurizio Sarri.
So what kind of role has the new boss had in this rejuvenation of Hazard’s form, and what has prevented him from reaching these heights in past seasons?
Firstly, Sarri has completely scrapped the five-at-the-back system that Antonio Conte implemented last season, replacing it with a more conventional 4-3-3 formation. Chelsea have clearly benefitted from this change in shape in an attacking sense – the Blues have scored six more goals than they had scored at this stage last season and are almost a quarter of the way to exceeding their goal tally for the entirety of the 2017/18 campaign.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Hazard is currently the Premier League’s top scorer after netting five times in three league starts, we also know that his new role is one where he looks most comfortable and can make full use of his talent. This role has him playing in a much wider position than last season, allowing him the freedom to either cut inside into central spaces, or run further wide and attack from the flanks.
His goals so far suggest that both approaches are fruitful ways to attack. His goal versus Bournemouth shows the threat he poses from exploiting small gaps in the wide area; while his first goal against Cardiff came from a more central position, proving that the number 10 has ability to create opportunities in almost all areas of the final third. What both these goals show is that Hazard is a very smart and natural goalscorer with the ability to fire shots in swiftly and accurately from various positions.
As if this wasn’t enough, the Belgian also has two assists to his name this season, which is down to the affinity he has with Chelsea’s other attack-minded players. Hazard, along with Pedro or Willian on the other wing, are a source of fluidity in the attacking phase. The slightest movement from any of these players triggers a specific response from the others, most likely a response set out by the manager beforehand. Sarri has an eye for detail and by allowing his players free roam in the final third, he can analyse all the possible methods of cutting through the opposition defence.
This suits Hazard because he has the technical ability and acceleration to move in almost any direction at any given time, and Sarri will have outlined the responses his teammates should have to a variety of situations. This goes for all of Chelsea’s attacking players, on or off the ball, and creates a dynamic system that can efficiently break down a team’s defence when a move comes off. Hazard also has mastery over the short pass – those small, yet intricate dinks are crucial in Sarri’s system.
With the dribbling ability that many of the Chelsea squad possess, including Sarri’s new signings of Kovacic and Jorginho in central midfield, it is no surprise that Sarri has taken his new team in this direction. But with someone with the sheer pace of Eden Hazard, it makes sense to play him wide and simply let him drift into central areas when he sees fit.
The Belgian has been Chelsea’s talisman for many years now and has had some outstanding seasons during his time in London, but he has suffered long periods of poor form in the past as well. Based on what we’ve seen so far, it looks like Hazard is returning to his peak and, when in top form, he is frankly one of the best footballers in the world – a frightening statement to those facing the Blues in the coming months.