This time last year, Juan Mata leaving Chelsea was unthinkable. He’d scored 12 league goals and assisted another 17. He’d been the main man for the team in the two years in which they lifted the Champions League and Europa League. Everything good went through Mata and it seemed he could do no wrong.
That he would be playing for Manchester United before the year was out was inconceivable, and yet this is the reality we are faced with. Still reeling from the sale of their golden boy, Chelsea fans may soon have another trauma to deal with.
Eden Hazard was named Chelsea’s Player of the Year in a season of transition. Chelsea first struggled to stop teams scoring and then to score themselves. Hazard shone throughout. He was the one attacking player guaranteed his place and he was the one player who always looked likely to create. And yet there are reasons to believe he may not be at Chelsea much longer.
Mourinho was harsh in his criticism of Hazard in the wake of Chelsea’s second leg defeat to Atletico Madrid and it seems the manager is growing tired of what he sees as the player’s inability to change. Hazard’s defensive weakness had led directly to two of Atletico’s goals.
Mourinho demands a minimum of work from all his players without the ball and there are reasons to believe that this minimum may be above what Hazard is capable of. The manager accepted a lack of defensive contribution from Ronaldo at Real Madrid but Hazard is not at this level. While the Belgian was Chelsea’s best attacking player last season, Mourinho may still prefer to sell the forward and bring in someone who will toe the line.
The idea here is that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. By having a team of players who are all willing to work equally hard without the ball, Chelsea become a greater force than their individual qualities would suggest. However, if one of these parts is not working as it should, then the whole thing falls down. This is what Mourinho saw against Atletico Madrid.
It seems Jose Mourinho now only wants to work with a certain kind of player – one who loves working. Hazard is not that sort of player. Yet Mourinho is a pragmatist, and if Hazard proves capable of increasing his rate of goalscoring, then the manager is likely to be willing to make an exception. As it is, Hazard doesn’t deliver the kind of return to compensate for what Mourinho sees as an unwillingness to help his teammates.
There are advantages to thinking about things in such a holistic way. A team with a coherent system is certainly greater than just a collection of talented players, and there are times when Chelsea’s press and counter has worked to great effect – just ask Arsenal. However, Mourinho’s desire for only one type of player may have unwanted results.
Chelsea’s failures last season where largely offensive. It’s not moments such as Hazard’s lapse of concentration at Atletico Madrid that characterize Chelsea’s season but their inability to break down teams who defend deep. Against such teams, Hazard often looked the most likely to create, leaving the idea of a Hazardless Chelsea a worrying one.
Given Mourinho’s work-centred philosophy and Chelsea’s commitment to Financial Fairplay, it’s not difficult to imagine the club accepting an offer for Hazard. How the club would then seek to score against the packed defences that they face in the majority of their matches is another matter.