From the start, Sunday was an excellent day for Chelsea. After seeing 6 of their players picked for the PFA Premier League team of the year, they headed to Arsenal and ground out a 0-0 draw to retain a 10 point lead at the top of the table which is enforced by a game in hand.
To finish off, winger Eden Hazard would receive the individual honour of PFA Player of the Year at the evening’s awards gala, leaving many to ponder if it was Jose Mourinho who had personally wrote the day’s script, just as he orchestrates so many football matches into his favour.
In typical Mourinho fashion, the draw at Arsenal was more down to supreme organisation and defensive committal than attacking flair offered by the likes of Hazard and co. but the Portuguese coach would owe it to the Belgian that he was in such a position to go and suffocate the game at the Emirates. Last week his grip on the title was made firmer by the 1-0 win over Manchester United, forged with just 29% possession, 5 shots to United’s 13 and a goal from Hazard, the one who sprinkles attacking conviction to a base of reinforced steel.
Hazard has 13 Premier League goals this season, including winners over West Ham and QPR at home as well as vital goals in the wins over Arsenal and Tottenham at Stamford Bridge. The 24 year old also has 8 assists to his name, offering the creative verve, together with Cesc Fabregas who has 16 assists, to a side that has the joint-best defensive record of 26 conceded.
Their inevitable league victory may be diminished somewhat by cries of a substandard league and the lack of genuine challengers, but Chelsea are indeed an excellent team, built on Mourinho’s extremely effective game-plan that relies first on the solidity of Gary Cahill, John Terry, Cesar Azpilicueta, Branislav Ivanovic and the titanium shield of Nemanja Matic in-front of them, before predatorily striking with the venom offered by Fabregas, Diego Costa, Oscar and Hazard in attack.
It may be simple, it may be boring as Arsenal fans acknowledged as they sang “boring, boring Chelsea” on Sunday afternoon, but Mourinho knows that such style has all-but won him a title. Nothing else matters.
It is Hazard, together with Fabregas and 19 goal Costa, who so often plays the role of match-winner. The Belgian goes into Sunday evening’s PFA awards ceremony top of the league charts in terms of chances created with 88, duels won with 287, dribbles attempted with 247 of which he has completed 153, also putting him first. They are statistics that highlight Hazard’s importance to Chelsea and what led Mourinho to warn off any potential overtures from Real Madrid by announcing that the Belgian is worth £200 million, £100 million for each leg.
It was a rebuttal from Mourinho that was perhaps tongue in cheek but maybe it was a serious insurance policy for a pair of legs that have earned 100 fouls this season, also putting him at the top of the Premier League’s most fouled chart. It is therefore remarkable that the Belgian has managed 40 appearances, starting in all 33 of Chelsea’s Premier League games, when the extent of the knocks he has taken has left him saying how he finds himself requiring 2-3 days to recover after matches and that he may not manage a career past the age of 32.
Hazard reportedly gauges his performances on the amount of fouls he has drawn– the more the better as it tells him how he has managed to attract the ire of his opponent- and it is that combativeness and resilience that has endeared him to his manager. “He wants to be a special player and a normal person. He’s a fantastic boy, a golden boy” said Mourinho, “he doesn’t cheat. He doesn’t dive. Nothing. So I think, even for opponents, he’s a fantastic kid.”
Hazard’s 18 goals in all competitions for Chelsea this term takes the winger up to 48 goals in 3 seasons for the club since making a £32 million move from Lille in 2013. That is a modest return for a player who has never been overly-renowned for his goal-scoring, the 22 he scored in his final year in France is his highest ever tally, so it is a redundant criticism to say he needs to score more.
Since he arrived in England he has made the team of the year 3 times, was Chelsea’s player of the season last term and has this year’s Premier League to add to the Europa League and League Cup medals. He may never be as prolific as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as some may challenge him to be, but goals are not everything; Hazard and his manager will be the first to point that out.
If Sunday could have been made better for Chelsea it was Hazard speaking of his desire for a long-term future with the club. “Why not?” he responded to the question of whether he could see himself being at Stamford Bridge for a while longer. “I am happy here, I play with big players and the most important thing is I want to win trophies and with this club, it is possible.”
With Hazard’s brand of strength, desire and technical genius that allows him to jink past defenders in tight spaces on the left, it makes the winning of those trophies easier for Mourinho and his team.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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