Last season was a horror show for Chelsea, there are is no getting away from it. Their attempt at holding onto their title was nothing short of pathetic and that ultimately cost Mourinho his job only 6 months after leading the Blues to their 4th Premier League title. Many of Chelsea’s big name players failed to perform last year and at times looking ids-interested throughout the campaign. This applied to no more so than Eden Hazard. The Belgian, voted PFA Players Player of the Year the previous season, flopped following a season where he was the league’s stand out performer. From minute 1 against Swansea on the opening day he looked sluggish, lethargic and most worryingly, bored. Ineffective in nearly every performance the Belgian had arguably hit rock bottom and didn’t register a single league goal till April when their Premier League crown had all but be taken from them.
However, there were signs at the end of last season and during the Euro’s that he might slowly be re-discovering his form. Furthermore, under Conte, he had a fresh start and an opportunity to prove to the world that he is still one of Europe’s brightest talents. During the opening couple games of the season he did start to look like the player that teams around the country had come to fear. There was a confidence back in his game and he was once again drifting past defenders like they weren’t even there. On the other hand, at times, like for much of his Chelsea career, he still showed that tendency to drift in and out of games. For example, against West Ham, once he netted the penalty to give his side the lead, he became anonymous and barely influenced the game ultimately resulting his substitution. Gary Neville later pointed this out saying if Hazard wants to be a ‘top player’ then he needs to become more ruthless in his performances.
Following their drubbing at the hands of Arsenal, Chelsea switched to the infamous 3 at the back-formation that Conte has deployed at nearly every club he has managed. Since then they haven’t conceded a single league goal and have netted 11 in the process in 4 games. Every player has seemed to have brought into this new style of play including the little Belgian himself. Hazard has now scored in three consecutive league games for the first time in his Chelsea career and has now already surpassed his total of 4 league goals from last year. The smile is back on his face and he and his team are reeking the awards.
Hazard has managed 5 league goals in 10 game this season following 4 in 31 last year
So what has changed ? It’s clear to all that Hazard is now enjoying his football a lot more than he was under the guidance of Mourinho. A lot of that is due to the fact that Conte has given him the license to roam free and express himself. The new formation also means that a lot of his defensive duties have been taken away with the presence of Alonso behind him at wing-back meaning that he can focus on what he does best. At times during Chelsea’s 2-0 win at Southampton yesterday, Hazard was un-playable. The Southampton midfield were given the run around not knowing when to follow him or stay in their position and he simply spent the evening toying with them. The confidence Hazard is now playing with was typified by his pass to Moses towards the end of the game where he managed to find his team-mate in the box when it seemed impossible that he even knew he was there. It was a fantastic team performance by the Blues yesterday but there is no doubt that he made the difference in the final third.
I’m not sure we will ever truly understand what happened to Hazard last season. It is a mystery to all how he went from the league’s best player to its worst in a year. However, I’m sure that Conte and Hazard himself have focused on putting that season behind them so that the Belgian can focus on fulfilling his full potential. There is no doubt that on his day, he is one of if not the best player in the league. He is the difference in the big games and is a magician with the ball at his feet. Mourinho once said that Hazard is as good as Messi and Ronaldo. Based on last season you would have called him mad but if he continues in this vein of form, he will not be far off .