After Chelsea’s 3-0 victory over Newcastle, José Mourinho said of Eden Hazard: “He’s the best young player in the world. Under 23, under 24, he is for sure the best in the world and if he continues in this direction, who knows where he can arrive?” Hazard may have failed to lead Chelsea to victory against a West Brom side fighting off the specter of relegation, but the Blues still remain on top of the Premier League table (thanks in part to Manchester City’s match against Sunderland being delayed, admittedly.) This begs the question: Why did Mourinho feel the need to qualify his adulation of Hazard by limiting his comparison to his fellow youngsters? Hazard is not quite yet on the level of the Ronaldos, Messis or Ribérys of the world, but his recent play has begged the question: Is Hazard the best player in England?
A month or two ago, this was not debatable, and in the eyes of many Liverpudlians, it still isn’t: Luis Suarez has been having a season to end all seasons. He leads the league with an astounding 23 goals, and he has almost singlehandedly kept Liverpool in Champions League contention. Hazard has 12 goals this year, tying him for fourth with Yaya Touré. As any fan can tell you, though, true greatness is not measured solely in goals. Furthermore, the ultimate measure of greatness is victory, and as Hazard has improved, so has Chelsea.
Still, whether it’ll be Suarez or Hazard who will win the Footballer of the Year award, don’t be surprised to see a flurry of activity as English football supporters place a wager on their pick after reviewing the best sites according to GamblingSites.com.
Hazard’s ascension began in earnest with his sublime Boxing Day performance against Swansea. His first half goal was the difference at Stamford Bridge, but that goal does not do his performance justice. His passes were crisp, his crosses on target and despite valiant challenges from a spirited Swansea side, the match never felt close. The entire Chelsea offense flowed through Hazard that day. It was the kind of match that may not look incredible on the stat sheet, but to watch the game was to witness the birth of a star in blue.
This star-making performance was followed by perhaps the most crucial victory for Chelsea so far this year, a 2-1 victory over Suarez’s Liverpool. Hazard scored again, launching a beautiful curling shot into the back of the net to break an early 1-1 tie. Once again the game was close, and after the match Mourinho emphasized the myriad opportunities his side had to score a finishing goal, saying, “We had some counter attack situations where we could have killed the game with Eto’o, Torres and Hazard, but we didn’t and it was hard until the last minute, but we deserved it.” Much like the Swansea match, the Chelsea offense was led by Hazard, who performed two vital tasks that day: He kept the ball on the feet of his fellow men in blue, and he kept the ball away from Suarez.
Hazard stayed in fine form as Chelsea continued to win, beating Southampton 3-0, Hull 2-0 and Manchester United 3-1. Hazard’s only goal in these three matches came against Hull, but he was electric in all three matches. His creativity and his drive forced opposing defenders to play at a pace they were not prepared for, and this showed in goals by Torres and Oscar and an unreal hat trick by Eto’o against Manchester United. Even when Hazard was not scoring goals, he was creating vital opportunities for players that have long received the highest billing at Stamford Bridge. The Blues would stumble slightly as they drew 0-0 with West Ham, but they followed this with another incredible win against Manchester City and then, of course, Hazard’s coronation would come just five days later with his hat trick against a spritely Newcastle side. If you’re keeping track, by the way, Chelsea hasn’t lost since December 7 against Stoke, and in that time they are 8-3-0.
Watching Eden Hazard take the pitch over the past two plus months, we have witnessed him make the jump that so many talented youngsters fail to make: He has turned all of his potential energy into kinetic energy, and that energy has propelled Chelsea to the top of the table. There is little chance he will finish the season with more goals than Suarez, and for that the Uruguayan will most likely be taking home the Player of the Season award come May. No player, however, has had as profound an impact on his club’s success as Hazard, and not coincidentally his club has a wonderful opportunity to seize their first title since the 2009-2010 campaign. Whether or not the Blues actually hoist the Premier League trophy may rest no more squarely on any players’ shoulders than Hazard’s; but make no mistake: His shoulders are broad enough to carry Chelsea to glory.
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