When Eden Hazard first arrived at Chelsea from France, he was considered as the best U-21 talent in European football. Over a year later and after playing for three different managers, it seems the Belgian wonderkid is not exactly the player he should have turned out to be, instead being suffocated too much by tactical instructions and limitations.
It didn’t start out that way. Under Roberto Di Matteo, Hazard had quite the free role (although he did operate mostly from the left wing), starting out the season with a goal and six assists in the first three matches. Next to Juan Mata, it looked like Chelsea have the best attacking midfielder duo in the Premier League.
But as the season went on, Hazard’s began to fade. Maybe it was the physical intensity of the Premier League, but it mostly had to do with suddenly being something very close to a left winger. With Chelsea using three players who are practically in the same position, it hard to hurt someone, somewhere. Last year, those were Hazard and Oscar playing on the wings, out of position, while Juan Mata enjoyed more freedom in the middle. This year? It’s hard to tell.
There’s nothing wrong with rotation – playing twice a week takes the productivity away from a player, and increases his chances to pick up an injury, no matter the severity. But it seems that Jose Mourinho is in quite the experimenter mood, having so many players and choices to pick from, as a wide selection consisting of Hazard, Mata, Oscar, Kevin de Bruyne, Andre Schurrle and Willian is spread before him.
Hazard looks like the automatic choice on the left at the moment, getting a chance to win the match off the bench in Norwich, coming on with Willian. Juan Mata is playing on the right side recently, but everything is temporary with Mourinho, who still hasn’t made up his mind about the strongest lineup he has. Giving players rest and using his players in different positions isn’t such a bad idea, but at some point, some lineup stability is going to be needed.
Hazard might never be the kind of player he was for Lille during his last two seasons in France, that got him the comparisons to Lionel Messi. He finished the 2011-2012 season with 20 league goals and 22 assists, as almost everything went through him, helping Lille finish in the top 3 despite losing key players after their championship season. At Chelsea, there’s just not enough spotlight for one player like Hazard to grab it all.
He’s still young, so dooming his career to just one path, which seems to be one that’s slightly less impressive than what was predicted for him, isn’t a very wise thing to do. However, Hazard is playing for a manager and on a team that just won’t make it possible for him to be as great as he can in terms of reaching his max potential as an individual player. Maybe that is what’s best for the team, but it seems that with every match that goes by, the uniqueness of Hazard’s talents are chipped at, disappearing until all that’s left is another efficient winger, who has a knack for coming up with brilliant decisions on rare occasions.