Eden Hazard was necessarily eased back into domestic action following his late return from the World Cup, but it is safe to say that the Belgium international has now fully hit his stride. As he has so often been before, the 27-year-old was the match-winner as Maurizio Sarri’s side came from behind to beat Cardiff City 4-1, maintaining their 100 per cent winning start to the season and moving clear of Liverpool at the top of the Premier League table on goal difference.
Things did not start well for the Blues on Saturday afternoon, as Sol Bamba fired the visitors to Stamford Bridge into the lead. Cardiff began the match brightly and it took a while for Chelsea to get going, but there was no doubt they were good value for all three points by the time the final whistle sounded.
It was Hazard who restored parity in the 37th minute, expertly finding the bottom corner after executing a brilliant dummy in the build-up. The former Lille man had already shown flashes of his quality before then, most notably with a driving run which featured a pair of one-twos with Pedro Rodriguez and Olivier Giroud, and he added a second soon after as his deflected strike beat Neil Etheridge in the Bluebirds’ goal. Hazard had to wait until the closing stages before completing his hat-trick, but a coolly taken penalty in the 80th minute meant he went home with the matchball and Chelsea made it five victories from their first five Premier League outings under Sarri.
“[Before I arrived] I thought Hazard was one of the best players in Europe, but now I am changing my mind because maybe he is the best,” the former Napoli head coach told reporters in his post-match press conference at Stamford Bridge.
“I think Hazard can improve more. I think that he can spend less energy than now at 50 or 60 metres to the opposite goal,” he continued. “When we have the ball in our half he touches the ball five times or six times. So his actions, it shows he spends a lot of energies, and can have more energy in the last 25 metres. I think he can score 30 or 35 goals.
“I have spoken to him in the last two days, yesterday I told him for me he can score 40 goals. But spend less energy far from the goal and play in the last 25 metres.”
It will be interesting to see whether the Belgium international is able to reach such a milestone. Since leaving Lille in the summer of 2012, Hazard has never broken the 20-goal barrier in all competitions. The most he has managed in the Premier League was 16 under Antonio Conte in 2016/17, having found the back of the net on 14 occasions under Jose Mourinho in both 2013/14 and the title-winning campaign of 2014/15. On two occasions, though, he has not even reached double figures, with a pitiful four strikes registered in 31 appearances during the west Londoners’ dismal season of 2015/16.
Hazard addressed his lack of goals early on in that campaign, suggesting that he lacks the ruthless mentality possessed by most of the world’s greatest scorers.
“I ask myself what I can do to become like Messi and Ronaldo, and score 50 or 60 goals in a season,” he said in a candid interview with Sport/Foot Magazine in September 2015.
“I try but I realise that I will never be a true scorer. It is not in me. It is mainly mental. Sometimes I still think after a goal, ‘that’s enough’. I’m not in search of records like some other players. If I can score between 15 and 20 goals each season, I will be very happy. I’m at a peak of my career but I want to become even better every day. I’m not there yet.”
If Hazard can truly be called the best player in Europe, he will need to score significantly more than 15 Premier League goals in 2018/19. Even that would not be enough for him to climb above Messi and Ronaldo in the global pecking order, but it could be sufficient for Chelsea to maintain a title tilt this term.
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