Unless you’re a Tottenham fan, you’re probably glad to see the back of Gareth Bale, simply due to the Welshman now being unable to score against your respective team this season, unless it turns out he’s so amazing that he can accurately find the net at any Premier League ground all the way from Spain. In fact, even if you are a member of the White Hart Lane faithful, you’ve probably come to accept Bale’s departure by now, considering it’s brought in record-breaking transfer revenues, and funded a summer of free spending in North London.
If we put our individual club allegiances to one side for a minute or two however, I think we’ll all agree that it’s an immense shame to see one of the Premier League‘s brightest young talents leave for La Liga, after just a single season of performing at full throttle. Even Cristiano Ronaldo graced us with three consecutive twenty-goal-campaigns before being snapped up by Los Blancos for a previously record-breaking £80million fee in summer 2009, and I’ll sorely miss the Welshman’s weekly displays of brilliance on Match of the Day.
But there’s no need for Premier League fans to fret just yet, despite losing one of our most talented individuals to a rival top flight, because there’s an equally as promising starlet on the horizon in the form of Chelsea’s Eden Hazard. The Belgium international is perhaps less assuming than GB, and is perhaps yet to show his ability to dominate games physically and mentally in a similar manner, but the Blues winger possesses the quality, talent and potential to fill the void Real Madrid’s new man is set to leave behind in England.
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The £32million signing joined Chelsea last summer, having coincidentally turned down the opportunity to join Tottenham after the Blues claimed their first Champions League title and subsequently eliminated the West Londoners from continental qualification. In his first season in England, aged just 21, Hazard showed why Roman Abramovich had invested his faith financially so heavily in a Ligue 1 starlet, recording nine goals and eleven assists in 34 premier League outings, and earning a place in the PFA Team of the Year, alongside fellow Chelsea midfielder Juan Mata. Returning Blues boss Jose Mourinho expects improvements in terms of output in the coming campaign however, especially if Hazard can avoid the ten game mid-season blip that he suffered last term.
But there’s little reason to suggest Hazard can’t better last year’s statistics, having now enjoyed the luxury of a season to settle at Stamford Bridge with 66 Chelsea appearances already under his belt. During his last season at Lille, the Belgian finished up with 20 goals and 15 assists in 38 appearances, and the new Chelsea boss will expect a similar level of output this season, considering Hazard has emerged above Mata at the forefront of his plans.
He’s yet to get off the mark in the Premier League this term, but an average of 2 shots, 3.3 key passes and 3 successful dribbles per game, with a pass completion ratio of 86% speaks for itself, whilst the Blues have come away from their opening three outings with an impressive seven points as Hazard played a full 90 minutes in every encounter. In his inside left position, were he’s entitled to hug the line or come inside at his own free will, the 22 year old has dictated play and ran the show in the final third, linking up with Oscar and Kevin De Bryne well to pin opponents into their own box, and sit comfortably on the ball deep into the opposition half.
The best showing of Hazard’s abilities so far in his Chelsea career came during the mid-week European Super Cup clash with Bayern Munich. He provided what could have been a match-winning goal in extra time, beating Manuel Neuer with a well-grounded effort from outside the box, but perhaps most importantly, the 2-2 affair that the Blues eventually lost on penalties displayed another side to the Belgium international’s game that was absent last season, and could be the final key to making him a Premier League star this year.
I’m referring to the added aggression, the willingness to get back and defend, at the same time as possessing the confidence to accept his role for much of the match as Chelsea’s only viable attacking outlet as the Champions League winners pinned the Blues back into their own half, seeking revenge for the 2012 European final. In stark contrast to under Rafa Benitez, Hazard tracked back throughout, making sure Ashley Cole was never left in a two-on-one situation. And despite the added defensive effort, which should be attributed to Mourinho’s abilities to get the utmost out of his players, he still possessed enough energy, pace, stamina and athleticism to find the net in the opening half of extra time, after taking on and wizzing past two Munich defenders.
Add that to the fact that the most defensively efficient side in Europe still couldn’t get the ball off him going forward, and you can see why I have high hopes for the Chelsea star. Running rings around Hull defenders for fun on the opening day of the season is one thing, but putting Champions League winning defenders to the sword, often three and four at a time, via immense close control, rapid turn of pace and creative invention is something else all together, and takes unbelievable quality and confidence to pull off.
Hazard can provide goals, score goals, take on any opponent with the ball at his feet and dictate play from the left flank, and it seems Mourinho is now eliminating the only chink in the Belgian’s armour by developing him into a better team player. The last midfielder the Special One took under his wing at Stamford Bridge to transform him into a leading star of European football was Frank Lampard, who won the Ballon d’Or silver award a year after Mourinho’s initial arrival in West London, and is still netting over ten goals per season at 35 years of age.
And still just 22, Hazard can only further progress his game over the course of the next few years. But I anticipate it won’t even take that long for the Chelsea winger to fill Gareth Bale’s void, and predict we’ll see more dominant displays from Hazard sooner rather than later.
He’s settled quickly in England, still finding the net on a consistent basis despite having to adapt to his new surroundings, and the Belgium international is fast becoming the focal point of the first team at Stamford Bridge, rather than being simply a competent wide man. Additionally, under Mourinho, whom regardless of his Real Madrid tenure is still one of the most talented man-managers in Europe, the scope for Hazard to improve and become one of the world’s best is vast.
Last year, Bale-mania took over the Premier League as defenders and spectators alike stood in awe at the Welsh wonder they saw before them. But this season is Hazard’s time to shine, and I’m sure we’ll all be swept away be going Hazard-crazy before the 2013/2014 English campaign comes to a close.
Will Eden Hazard fill Gareth Bale’s void this season?
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