Chelsea’s Eden Hazard is one of the leading exponents of the new breed of wide, attacking soccer players and has established himself as one of the best footballers in the world over the past two or three years.
While the heritage of wingers has been built on staying close to the touchline, beating a defender with either pace or skill, or a combination of both, and then firing in a cross for a powerful centre-forward to head home, Hazard has emerged from a slightly different mould. Hazard is the new winger, one with speed and dribbling ability who can not only cross the ball and creating chances but score goals himself.
Similar to Barcelona star Lionel Messi in the way he keeps close control of the football and cuts in from the wing, Hazard proved himself to be Chelsea’s most important player last season as they won the Premier League title under Jose Mourinho.
Chelsea’s hopes to win the Premier League again may have been overtaken by Manchester City after a stuttering start to the new season, but with a player like Hazard in the team, it would be dangerous to write them off so early in the campaign.
Hazard has improved with each season in terms of his contribution to Chelsea and, given he is only 24, there is every reason to think the Belgium international will continue that progress.
After joining Chelsea from Lille in the summer of 2012, he scored nine goals and provided 11 assists in 34 Premier League appearances. The following season, he upped that to 14 goals and seven assists from just one more game. Last season, when he was named Footballer of the Year & PFA Player of the Year, Hazard again scored 14 goals, and provided nine assists after starting every Premier League match. Only five players scored more goals than Hazard last season, and only five provided more assists.
What was particularly noticeable last season from Hazard was his ability to score important goals and this was a primary factor in why he was named Footballer of the Year.
He scored important penalties in wins over Arsenal and Queens Park Rangers, and he also scored the opening goals in home wins over Tottenham and Hull City. He followed those up with an important equaliser against Southampton over the Christmas period. That goal was an excellent example of how Hazard plays the game and how difficult he is to stop for opponents. He took a touch to get past Maya Yoshida, the rest of the Southampton defence was beaten by another touch and Hazard curled a low shot beyond goalkeeper Fraser Forster.
A couple of goals scored away against Hull City also demonstrate Hazard’s potency and the difficulty he poses for defenders to stop.
In the 2013/14 season, he opened the scoring for Chelsea at Hull when he ran from the left edge of the penalty area in a straight line, feigned to shoot to leave a covering defender on the floor and then rifled in a low shot into the corner. Last season, perhaps with Hull defenders wary of what he did to them before, they backed off and allowed Hazard to score from 20 yards after just 87 seconds of the match.
Like playing the Football Star slot game at 32Red, Hazard has a range of features to his game and one other asset is his ability to use both feet. There are few footballers in the modern game who are competent with both feet, but Hazard is one of those.
The goal he scored in January 2014 against Hull described above demonstrated his prowess with his right foot. But his goal against Manchester United at home last season showed how confident he is using his left foot as well. From a narrow angle, Hazard drilled a low shot past David de Gea in the first half.
It once again highlighted how Hazard scores in big games and at big moments. This was further exemplified when he scored the only goal against Crystal Palace, albeit from a rebound after he had missed a penalty, which confirmed Chelsea as champions.
His ability to cut inside, or go on the outside, of defenders ensures opponents try all manner of ways to stop him, some of which aren’t exactly legal. Last season, for instance, he was the only player in the Premier League to be fouled more than 100 times.
Composed and decisive on the ball, either when trying to create a chance for his team-mate, or finishing off a chance, Hazard is a worthy recipient of the tag of being the Premier League’s best player.