One of the hottest names on the lips of Premier League pundits over the past month or so has without a doubt been Eden Hazard. The Chelsea winger has been in top form of late, and has been a chief reason as to why the Blue’s have surged to the top of the league table. But while his current form has undoubtedly contributed to him being the talk of the town, it’s the comments from his manager José Mourinho that have set the football world ablaze.
Anytime anyone of any notoriety makes a claim that “player X” is the next “player Y”, it’s bound to get people talking–and maybe even arguing. But when that person’s the “Special One” and he just so happens to say that Hazard is the best young player in the world and could someday challenge Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi as the world’s best player, then surely color commentators, newspapers, blogs, podcasts, Twitter, and any other form of football media are sure to spontaneously combust, right?
“I keep saying he has to improve. He needs to have his feet on the ground. Ronaldo and Messi are Ronaldo and Messi. Eden Hazard is probably the best young player in the world with legs to go there, but give him time.”–José Mourinho
Now, I’m not in any position to compare Hazard to the two greatest players of this generation, I’ll leave that to the man who’s been around all three and has coached two of them, but I will throw a log onto the fire and say that outside of Luis Suarez, Eden Hazard is the best player in the Premier League. His overall contribution this year can only be rivaled by the season for the ages that the Uruguayan is currently having, and his stellar effort thus far is showing up on the fantasy score sheet as well as his price tag on fantasypremierleague.com has risen from £9.5 at the beginning of the campaign to his current value of £11.1.
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José’s said there’s no chance of Hazard leaving Stamford Bridge, nor can he afford to give him a rest. What follows will hopefully convince you that your fantasy team can’t do without the dazzling Belgian either–even with the lofty price tag.
To begin, we’ll focus simply on his usage. Upon arriving at Chelsea in 2012 from the French side Lille for £32 million (starting to look like a bargain) we see that he’s transformed from a promising talent that probably wasn’t utilized as much as he should have been, to a player who’s team, quite frankly, wouldn’t be where they are without him.
As you can see from the charts, last season under Roberto Di Matteo and Rafael Benitez he was subbed off 50% of the time (17 times) and only played the full 90+ minutes 41.2% of the time (14 times), while this year under Mourinho he’s gone the distance 60.7% of the time (17 times) and only been subbed off just over 35% of the time (10 times). To put it another way, in the 2012-2013 season, though he did miss 4 games, he only managed 2,627 minutes, while so far (key phrase) this year he’s already played 2,365 minutes. Credit Mourinho for recognizing that Hazard is vital to the counter attacking style of football that he desires to play.
That counter attacking style has yielded 52 goals in 28 matches, of which Hazard has been directly involved in 19 of them (12 goals, 7 assists). But looking past the peripherals, we see that his impact on the game extends much further than just what the score sheet says. For example, he’s accumulated an astonishing 70 key passes (pass that leads to a shot on goal but isn’t converted)–12 more than anyone else in the league and 33 more than the next closest Chelsea player (Willian). This is especially impressive because he’s done so largely in part without the presence of a consistent striker; Fernando Torres and Samuel Eto’o, while each have enjoyed some brief moments of brilliance, have thus far proven to be mostly ineffective. One might wonder what Hazard could accomplish on a Liverpool or Manchester City?
Another area where he’s exercised his dominance is with his ball control and dribbling. When you watch him play, one of the first things that stands out about him (at least to me) is the way the ball seemingly sticks to his boots as he weaves past defenders. A normal habitant of the left flank, Hazard is constantly putting pressure on the defense with his pace and ability to keep possession in tight quarters.
As you can see, his 62% take on rate (attempted dribble past an opponent) quantifies his talent with the ball at his feet and shows just how effective he’s been this season at getting past his markers. Additionally, all those successful take on’s have helped lead to him getting fouled 77 times, which in turn helps his team with more set pieces.
And lastly, looking not just simply at the amount of goals (though impressive and good enough for 6th in the league), one can’t help but notice his impressive shot accuracy of 66%. 27 out of 41 shots have been on target this season, and what’s even more impressive is where his goals have come from.
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What this chart clearly demonstrates is his deadly touch when shooting. It also demonstrates that even from greater distances, if given enough space (which we’ve already established he’s more than capable of creating for himself), he can still deliver.
The match this past Saturday against Fulham was, outside of scoring himself, a good microcosm of what his season has been like thus far: 6/8 on take on’s, 7 created chances (2 assists/5 key passes), 38/47 passes completed (81%), and complete domination of the left side of the pitch. There were moments in that game where he completely dictated the tempo leading the Chelsea counter attack, and that ultimately lead to him providing the match-clinching assist on Andre Schürrle’s second goal. Oh yeah, he also did this (hint: watch his feet)
Is he as good as Ronaldo and Messi? No, not even close. Will he be? Like I said, I’m in no position to speculate on that, but I do know he has the God-given tools to get there. His pace, vision, ball control, and touch are world class, and he has a manager who will feature those skill sets and knows how to get the best out of them. He’s also only 23 years old, so it’s probably safe to say he’s only going to get better, and that’s a scary thought for both Chelsea opponents and people who don’t spend the money to have him in their fantasy line ups.
As usual, all terms and data provided by Squawka.com
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Follow the Yank who wrote this and who calls it Football, not soccer, on Twitter at @LTtheGreat