While Old Trafford may not emanate the same aura of intimidation these days, going up against Manchester United in their own back yard is a always difficult challenge. That’s a narrative that even applies to league leaders Chelsea, who will be the next team to face off against Louis van Gaal’s bolstered Red Devils squad in Sunday’s match (live on NBC at Noon ET in the USA).
Even though the Blues are flying atop of the Premier League table and playing with a swagger, Jose Mourinho will be looking to his big players to make the difference up against United in Sunday’s titanic clash. And of all the stellar names that pack out this Chelsea squad, Eden Hazard is quickly emerging as the finest.
Much of the focus has been on the forensic goalscoring of Diego Costa and the midfield mastery of Cesc Fabregas this season, as supporters and pundits alike have fawned over the power and poise of Mourinho’s side. But there’s been some hugely encouraging signs from Hazard too, and he’s starting to show the requisite attributes required to ensure he’s considered amongst the finest players in world soccer.
The magic Hazard has in his feet have been apparent from the minute he burst on to the scene at Lille, right up to the sumptuous goal he scored against Maribor this week in the UEFA Champions League. The young Belgian is a player capable of playing in a host of positions and possesses a coveted coalescence of blistering pace, marvelous technique and indisputable footballing intelligence.
Since his £32 million move to Chelsea, there has been steady improvements in his game, as Hazard continues to mature as a player and adapt to the robust nature of English football. But since Mourinho took the reigns at Stamford Bridge for the second time in his distinguished managerial career, Hazard has become a different player.
Admittedly, the Portuguese has been critical of his young winger, lambasting his defensive work in the wake of Chelsea’s 3-1 defeat to Atletico Madrid in the second leg of the Champions League semi-final. But all-in-all, Hazard is benefitting from Mourinho’s influence and despite the criticism he received for that faux pas against the Spanish champions, he picked up a plethora of individual accolades come the end of the season.
Throughout the 2013/14 Premier League campaign, Hazard notched 14 goals and seven assists, cementing his status as not only one of the finest players in English football, but as one of the very best in Europe. But such is his ability, there’s a sense that the former Lille man can go on to stratospheric heights.
He certainly has the talent to be considered alongside the very best in the game, but to be held in the same regard as the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, there are a few areas in which he needs to improve, the most obvious of which being the goals he scores.
A haul of 14 goals in the Premier League is a fantastic achievement, especially for a player who is deployed on the left flank by a manager that demands a defensive effort too. But his national team manager Marc Wilmots, per Hassan Talib Haji of Goal.com, thinks he needs to score goals and Hazard himself has admitted that he can do better, per FourFourTwo:
On a personal level last season was good for me, but I want more. Last season I scored 14 goals in the Premier League – that’s not enough.
In short, if he wants to expedite a rise to the peak of European football for both himself and his club, then goals are the best way to do it. He needs to do it on a regular basis too.
When Hazard gets the ball at his feet, more often than not, he makes things happen. But there have been times during his career at Chelsea when he has flickered in and out of games a little too regularly. This is often the case for wide players and a trait that accompanies the age-old typical winger, but Hazard isn’t a typical winger. He’s a talent who should be effecting games regularly throughout the course of the 90 minutes.
Hazard seems aware that there are still improvements to make in his game and the early signs this season are encouraging. He’s already got four goals and two assists for the season; his wonderful pass for Andre Schurrle’s goal against Manchester City and the winning and subsequent conversion of a penalty against Arsenal have also been vital contributions in critical games. It’s also worth remembering that although he’s been on the scene for an age, Hazard is just 23 years old.
But you can guarantee that Mourinho will continue to demand more from his No. 10, a player who the Portuguese boss has claimed can “go from a top player to one of the greats of his generation”, per Dominic Fifield of The Guardian. Indeed, the Chelsea boss was reportedly unhappy to see Hazard spurn the opportunity to get on the scoresheet against Maribor in the Champions League, as the Belgian allowed Didier Drogba to take a penalty against the Slovenian outfit, per Metro.
Having already established himself an one of the Premier League’s very best, the challenge of becoming one of the finest of his generation awaits this wonderful young player; up to now, it’s one he’s confronting with a swagger.
Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball
200+ Channels With Sports & News
- Starting price: $33/mo. for fubo Latino Package
- Watch Premier League, World Cup, Euro 2024 & more
Live & On Demand TV Streaming
- Price: $35/mo. for Sling Blue
- Watch Premier League, World Cup & MLS
Many Sports & ESPN Originals
- Price: $9.99/mo. (or get ESPN+, Hulu & Disney+ for $13.99/mo.)
- Features Bundesliga, LaLiga, Championship, & more
2,000+ soccer games per year
- Price: $4.99/mo
- Features Champions League, Serie A, Europa League & NWSL
175 Premier League Games & PL TV
- Starting price: $4.99/mo. for Peacock Premium
- Watch 175 exclusive EPL games per season
110+ channels, live & on-demand
- Price: $59.95/mo. for Plus Package
- Includes FOX, FS1, ESPN, TUDN & more
- Cristiano Ronaldo should have taken outrageous Saudi offer
- FIFA 23 needs to focus on things beyond Ted Lasso
- Barcelona VP says Messi return would be ‘possible financially’
- Brands hoping World Cup boosts Gen Z interest in soccer
- Hummel makes statement with World Cup kits for Denmark
- 3 reasons Arlington is not ideal host for 2026 World Cup final
- Richarlison racially abused in Brazil’s win over Tunisia
- Where to find Chelsea vs. West Ham on US TV
- USMNT staggers into World Cup following draw with Saudi Arabia
- 2026 World Cup Final will reportedly be in Arlington, Texas