Interim Chelsea boss Guus Hiddink believes that Eden Hazard boasts the desire and commitment to revive his Chelsea career after an uninspiring season at Stamford Bridge, but Hiddink is concerned the playmaker’s anxiety to recapture his form of last year may be hampering his recovery.
Hazard, 25, who had unwisely swapped shirts with Ángel Di María at half-time, was brought off with 13 minutes to go in the Champions League meeting by Paris Saint-Germain last week, departing to boos from a section of the home support. The Belgian’s father, Thierry, has since suggested his son has been playing at Chelsea’s request despite being in pain since sustaining a hip problem during the defeat at Leicester City in December, an injury that has served to blunt his threat.
But, for Chelsea fans, the player looked as though he was entirely disinterested and that it was only a matter of time before the Belgian international would exit stage left. Following this audacious show of contempt for an otherwise lost cause and seemingly deciding that it was better to finish early, many fans on the phone-in shows vented their unhappiness at Hazard’s attitude afterwards.
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It is widely reported that Hazard wants to leave Chelsea at the end of the season and with other clubs being interested in the player, maybe in his mind, this season is just something to get through. Some fans were calling for Abramovich to throw the player into the reserves for the next four years of his contract rather than selling him, thus making an example of him and showing players with similar thoughts that these types of battles can be, excuse the unintended pun, hazardous to their career.
Or maybe he is suffering a hip injury as his father says and it wasn’t a show of impudence, but of a niggling injury becoming too much to bear.
Hiddink consulted the club’s physiologists and analysis department about Hazard’s performance against PSG. The data collated from that game suggested he covered more ground than any team-mate besides Cesc Fàbregas while he was on the pitch, with many of his runs logged as high intensity, and is therefore not categorised to be in the “fatigue zone” where the risk of sustaining injury is higher.
Hiddink said: “He is committed, which is why I defend him, but he’s also concerned a bit about delivering more.
“I hate it if players are getting a bit ‘indifferent’ because I want them to force themselves to the limit, and Eden is not ‘indifferent’. Everyone has his own charisma. If you look at Diego Costa, he’s very outspoken and if he’s angry you know he’s angry.
“Eden is more introspective and doesn’t really show what he’s thinking, but different people offer up different expressions. It doesn’t mean he’s not involved.”
Fellow Chelsea player, Branislav Ivanocic also stuck up for his teammate and believes the Belgian showed his commitment to the cause by playing.
“It’s not an excuse, but people have to think about the fact he started the game injured,” Ivanovic said.
“Did that show how committed he is? Yes. Of course when you lose a game the fans are not happy and they have to be like that.”
“But in my opinion it was one of his best performances so far. He was very strong and quick. He wanted to score and had a couple of actions where he looked like last season.”
In 2014-15, Hazard scored 14 Premier League goals and assisted nine more. By comparison, in the top flight this season to date, Hazard has failed to score and has recorded just four assists. A tale of two seasons.
If Conte does come into the Chelsea hot seat this summer, as widely expected, the Hazard situation will be one to be sorted out quickly, along with Diego Costa. Is it better to sell or to keep – stick or twist?
Next year will be a vital year in the re-building of Chelsea. Nothing but success and Champions League qualification will be enough for the Chelsea owner. This means that Conte, or whoever comes along, will need to work out what they do and don’t want and put a capable team together – fast.
Abramovich is waiting…