Putting them away: Why 2018-19 could be Eden Hazard’s best season yet

Guardiola on ‘crazy’ fixture schedule

Ever since his move from Lille to Stamford Bridge, Eden Hazard has been nothing short of a sensation in the Premier League. Lightning fast speed, dazzling dribbles, brilliant link-up play, great understanding with his teammates — Hazard has always looked almost like the complete player every team craves for.

Yes, almost! Because there’s a certain aspect of the Chelsea attacker’s game that always fails to do justice to his calibre. And that’s his goal scoring capabilities. Never in his career has Hazard been labelled a prolific goalscorer.

When you are compared with footballing greats like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, you’ve to be deadly in front of the goal. And Hazard has then and again proved lacking in that department. But this season, it seems like things are about to change.

After a brilliant World Cup with Belgium, Hazard didn’t have the luxury of a preseason with the London club. With less than a month’s rest, he was back at Cobham doing what he always does. Training hard, preparing himself for another gruelling Premier League campaign.

But, no matter how big a player you are, you are still a mere mortal. You still need fully-charged batteries to help you go through. Hazard didn’t have that. And the Blues gaffer Maurizio Sarri knew that he had to protect his crown jewel; wrap him in cotton wool if necessary.

And that’s exactly what happened. Hazard was properly taken care of. And with that, he unleashed his true self. He’s scored in every game he’s started for Chelsea this season. In just 300 minutes of football, he’s scored five goals and provided two assists for club and country.

Hazard’s name has always been up there amongst the world’s best. But there’s a reason he’s never really come close to the Ballon d’Or scene — his scoring ratio. Every time there has been a debate regarding the player who can end the domination of Messi and Ronaldo as the world’s best, very obviously, his name has popped up. But for the lack of goals to his name, he has never been considered in the same league as a Neymar Jr or a Kylian Mbappe. Even Mohamed Salah, who himself is a winger, scored as many as 43 goals last season.

But this season, he’s hell-bent on changing that. For starters, Hazard’s playing style has changed a bit. He’s now inside the D box more and more to influence the game and get the desired goals for both club and country. Traditionally a player who cuts in from the left to provide the striker with some immaculate passes, Hazard, however, is slowly transforming into something of a second striker from a left winger. His performances from the past few weeks indicate that exactly.

Hazard has had his scoring boots on ever since the 2018 World Cup in Russia. He’s scoring for fun and he seems to enjoy football more and more. But what’s truly impressive is his combination with Alvaro Morata/Olivier Giroud and Willian – his partners in Chelsea’s attack.

But the fact that Hazard is really concentrating on scoring was on full display against Cardiff City at the Bridge. Trailing in the first part of the first half, Chelsea looked for inspiration in their team. And when they wanted him the most, Hazard became Chelsea’s saviour of the day. A brilliant hat-trick ended Cardiff’s hopes of coming back. His potency in front of the goal was eye-catching.

There were reports in the past suggesting Real Madrid’s reluctance to sign Hazard was due to his poor tally of goals. Even during the last season, he was acting as more of a provider than a goalscorer. Hazard’s heat map showed relatively lesser involvement inside the box to that of a regular winger. But, looks like Hazard has taken note.

Now, he’s more involved closer to the goal. And with abilities like his, it’s easy to understand he also has great finishing abilities in his closet. And the way Hazard’s started this season, it might very well be the one where he scores the most.

Belgium and Chelsea fans must be licking their lips after seeing their mercurial star netting goals left, right and centre, but the opposing defences sure wouldn’t enjoy the Beligian magician’s transformation very much!