Sanchez or Hazard ?

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Newcastle and Blackburn legend Alan Shearer has recently come out and said that in his eyes, the only player who can be labelled world-class in the Premier League is Manchester City striker Sergio Agüero. Many would agree that he is correct is his assessment of the striker but to say he is the only ‘world-class player in England’ hasn’t gone down all that well. Some would say that fellow City team-mate Kevin De Bryune falls under that label whilst United fans may say the same about goalkeeper David De Gea. However, when it comes to producing sheer moments of brilliance on the football pitch, you can look no further than Eden Hazard and Alexis Sanchez. The question is, who’s better ?

Following Sanchez’s majestic hat-trick against West Ham on Saturday, and Hazard’s recent return to form, there has been an ongoing debate over who is the better player. Whilst the two  both struggled last season, following brilliant campaigns back in the 2014/15 season, there is little doubting the fact that both would be in everyone’s first choice Premier League 11. The two have managed 19 league goals between them already this season and have proved pivotal in firing their respective teams to 1st (Chelsea) and 2nd (Arsenal) in the league.

Eden Hazard was the biggest flop of the season during the 2015/16 campaign following the dizzy heights he hit in the previous season but it seems at last he is back at his best. It remains to be seen whether he can maintain this form and perhaps power Chelsea to their 5th Premier League title but the early signs are promising. After already doubling his entire goals tally for last season, the Belgian has looked deadly at times putting in some fine individual performances. I doubt we will ever discover the reason behind his dramatic drop in form last year but Conte has got him back doing what he does best and he and Chelsea are certainly reeking the awards.

The story is similar at the Emirates for the Chilean beast Alexis Sanchez. After a stellar first season for the Gunners, he struggled to replicate that form consistently last year following a injury-hit campaign. However, like Hazard, he has looked back to his best this season. With 11 goals already this season, he sits joint top of the Premier League scoring charts and if his hat-trick against West Ham was anything to go by, he could  well be there come the end of the season. Ever since Wenger’s decision to move Sanchez to the number 9 position, he has looked rejuvenated. He has been a menace for defences game after game and has been one if not the star performer of the season. The only concern for Arsenal fans is whether they can keep hold of him. Following question marks over his future, rumours have risen linking him with a switch to Conte’s Chelsea. It remains to be seen whether these rumours will become reality but the sooner the club gets him to sign a new deal, the better.

The two are certainly exceptional players and without them, both their respective sides would look short of individual talent. When it comes to picking between the two, a solution seems hard to come by. Both have attributes that they excel in and both have been integral to their teams recent success. It seems unfair to try to separate such great players so I will leave the decision, to you.

 

 

 

Guess who’s back !

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.

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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 .

The Greatest Love Affair in Football

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Sunday will be a memorable day for all those. It marks the return of Jose Mourinho to the club where he won 3 Premier League titles, 3 League Cup’s and one FA Cup over 5 full seasons with the club. Credited as being the man who took Chelsea to the next level back in 2004, there will always be a special place for him in the hearts of all those associated with the club. However, he returns Sunday in the opposing dugout for the first time in his career and there is little doubt he will stop at nothing to come away with three points.

When you look back on Mourinho’s career, most will look at his success with the blues. He has enjoyed success as-well of course with the likes of Madrid and Inter but his love affair with Chelsea is one that stretches back over 10 years . When he parted company with them the first time in 2007, many felt he still had unfinished business with the club. This proved the case when the prodigal son returned in 2013 to pick up from where he left off. It took time, just like in 2004, to mould his team  in his image but after only one season, they were once again a formidable outfit under the Special One. Winning the league and cup double proved a cake-walk for Mourinho once again proving that he was one of the best in the business.

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Mourinho was appointed Chelsea manager for the second time in 2013

However, like every great love story, there is usually a bitter ending. The 2015/16 season was arguably the worst ever since Roman Abramovich took over at the club with Chelsea barely attempting to hold onto their Premier League crown. Losses against Palace, City and Everton in their opening 5 games meant they were already well off the pace and their title defence was in tatters. It didn’t get any better from there either. Knocked out early on in the League Cup by Stoke and struggling for form in the Champions League meant that the pressure was well and truly on Jose to get the Blues back on track. Sadly, one thing you rarely get at Chelsea is time. On 17th December 2015, after losing 9 of 16 league games, Mourinho left the club by ‘mutual consent’ . His love story with Chelsea came to an abrupt end  and his legacy, now haunted by those few small months at the start of the season.

Now he returns to the Bridge an enemy. Manager of one of their arch rivals in United and it promises to be an intriguing game. It will of course be dominated by the return of the Special One to his beloved Chelsea but I’m sure that every Chelsea fan knows, Mourinho will be in no mood to show mercy to his former employers and will stop at nothing to come away with all 3 points.

One thing is certain, Sunday will be an emotional day. I’m confident that he will get the reception he truly deserves because, whatever happened last year, he is still a Chelsea legend and huge part of their recent success. Will he ever return for a third time ? I highly doubt it but Jose’s love affair with Chelsea is one that will live long in the memory.

 

The One Man Army that is Diego Costa

Ever since Diego Costa’s arrival from Madrid back in the summer of 2014, he has been the subject of controversy. He has been criticised by the majority as being a menace and villain of the game, and whilst at times maybe he does cross that very thin line between being a hero and a villain, does he receive more criticism than he deserves ?

Only one game has been played this season, and Diego Costa has already become the centre of attention. After scoring the winner with a fine strike against West Ham on Monday to give new manager Antonio Conte a debut win, you would have thought that many in England would have been full of praise for Chelsea’s striker, that was far from the case. Every report on the game focused on Costa’s tackle on West Ham keeper Adrian and how he was incredibly lucky to be on the pitch. Now there is no denying that it was a pretty shocking tackle and it probably did deserve red, but many have decided to suggest that Costa meant harm to Adrian and that it is in his nature to hurt other player’s. My question to them would be what do you expect Costa to do ? He was fully entitled to go for the ball in that situation and yes it didn’t go as planned but I think the whole situation has been blown out of proportion.

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Many believe Diego Costa was lucky not to receive red after his challenge on Adrian last Monday (see above)

We all know that Costa plays on the edge and at times he does go to far but saying that he is a violent person and accusing him of causing genuine harm to Adrian I believe is unfair. When other players have made worse challenges than that, there hasn’t been nearly as much spotlight on the situation. One example is when Ryan Shawcross broke Aaron Ramsey’s leg a few season’s back. When that happened everyone felt sorry for the lad because he didn’t mean it and apparnetly it wasn’t in his nature. When it comes to Costa however, everyone is on his back in an instant. Now I understand that he hasn’t helped himself with instances like the stamp on Liverpool’s Martin Skrtel two season’s ago and then the apparent biting of Gareth Barry last season, but the media certainly enjoy portraying him as this pantomime villain.

It just seem’s like everyone apart from Chelsea fan’s want Costa to leave our league. This is something I find bizarre as everyone is complaining that we don’t attract Europe’s best player’s and they all want to play in Spain. Costa is an exception to this trend as he left Madrid to come to London. Everyone know’s last season that he wasn’t quite as prolific as his first campaign, but he is still one of the deadliest finishers money can buy and the premier league is, even if many don’t believe it, lucky to have him.

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 Costa managed only 12 league goals last season after 20 in the previous one (see above)

Costa has come out himself this week stating that he believes he is targeted by many in England and you have to agree with him. With all the negativity around him you wonder how long he will spend at Chelsea even though he is adored by the Blue’s fan base.  It would be a great shame to see him leave as he is at his best a joy to watch and he makes the premier league stronger as a whole.

 

What next for Mata ?

It’s clear to see that the Spaniard doesn’t fit with Mourinho’s idea of the ideal midfielder. Mata during his Chelsea days was known for the damage he did up the attacking side of the pitch, not the defensive side, and with a lack of pace he struggles to get about the pitch like other’s he has played with, for example, Willian, who was a constant fixture in Mourinho’s Chelsea. The Spaniard was probably thrilled when he left Chelsea back in 2014 knowing that he might never have to work under Mourinho again but here we are, only 2 years later, and it looks like the same story.

Ever since his departure from Chelsea, Mata hasn’t quite looked like the player he once was. During his second and final full season with the Blue’s, Mata scored 20 goals in all competitions and earned himself a spot in the PFA Team of the Year and alongside that, he picked up the Chelsea’s Player’s Player of the Year Award. Out of all the player’s in that Chelsea squad, Mata would be the last name you would have expected to be cast aside like he was. A true fan favourite, the little number 10 was in his prime. Sadly that all changed when the Special One came home. It was clear from the off that Mourinho didn’t fancy Mata with his role in the team being restricted to substitute appearances and when he  did start he rarely finished the game on the pitch. Many were bamboozled by Mata’s isolation but few dared to challenge Mourinho and ultimately it all became too much for Mata.

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Mata enjoyed a successful two seasons at Chelsea before Mourinho’s arrival (see above)

It was no surprise when United came in to rescue Mata as he was a player who wanted out of Chelsea, and Moyes needed to make a big money signing. United smashed their transfer record to bring Mata to the club for £37.1 million, which has of course been smashed numerous times since then, on the 25th January 2014. Mata began his United career in fine form scoring 6 goals in 15 league appearances up until the end of the season showing everyone that he still had a lot to give. He continued this good form into the new season but then began to lose his place. He started to become restricted to cameo’s where at times we saw his brilliance being the two goals he scored against Liverpool on the 22nd of March 2015, but then some games passed him by. That has sadly been the story of Mata’s career at United.

Now it seem’s things have gotten worse. Not only has Mourinho returned but it seem’s Mata may get less of chance than he did at Chelsea. It is suggested that he will remain at the club for the time being but if his double substitution during the community shield is anything to go by, it doesn’t look good. You feel for Mata whose career has arguably gone backwards since he left the Blue’ s, but the blame perhaps doesn’t lie with him, but Mourinho.

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Mata came on only to be taken off during the community shield on Sunday (see above)

 

 

If anyone can, Kanté can !

It was clear throughout last season, that Chelsea lacked that defensive stability that won them the title the previous year. A lot of this was down to the horrific drop in form of one Nemanja Matic. Considered by many to be the best in his position during the 2014/2015 season, Matic was one of Chelsea’s key players in helping them achieve league and cup glory. However, last season on the other hand, was a completely different story.

From minute one against Swansea on the opening day of last season, Matic looked like a shadow of the player he once was. His confidence looked shot and he no longer had that presence in front of the defence. This ultimately exposed how slow Chelsea’s defence was at times leading to players like Terry and Ivanovic also enduring a tough season. Perhaps Matic’s drop in form was over-looked following the demise of Eden Hazard, but he ultimately must be held equally responsible for Chelsea’s horrific campaign.

However, it seems that new boss Antonio Conte has already found a replacement in the form of one N’Golo Kanté. Breaking on to the scene only a year ago for Leicester, this man has already earned tonnes of plaudits for his style of play. Simply put, he’s an engine. Described by many as non-human as he seems able to continue running at the same pace throughout the entirety of games. Perhaps what has surprised people the most is how well he reads the game even  though last season was his first outside France. He seems to be able to see things that others can’t and rarely lets anything slip past him, demonstrated by how well Leicester kept clean sheets on their way to the title.

He seems the perfect fit for Chelsea who desperately need to find a midfield enforcer to protect their ageing back-line. On the other hand, Kanté is moving from a team who rely on the counter attack to one which is all about possession. This is a big step for a player who arguably lacks experience in the game and whether he can adjust to this new style of play remains to be seen.

Ultimately though you can see why Conte made buying Kanté a priority because in this day and age there are very few player’s like him. If you want success as a team then you need a balance of pace and power and he certainly provides that. Looking at him, he does remind you of one Claude Makelele, and we all know what happened when he signed for the Blues.

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Kanté was one of the stars of the 2015/2016 premier league campaign (see above)