Eden Hazard’s remarkable early season form has led many fans and pundits to ask, “Is he the best player in the Premier League?”
Chelsea’s Eden Hazard has scored six goals in seven Premier League games, as well as a spectacular strike against Liverpool in the Carabao Cup, and has looked untouchable every time he has played this season.
Hazard had an incredible World Cup, where he inspired Belgium to a third-place finish. These performances for club and country saw him linked with a £200 million move to replace Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid.
“After six wonderful years at Chelsea, it might be time to discover something different. I can decide if I want to stay or go, but Chelsea will make the final decision. If they let me out, you already know my favorite destination,” said Hazard, who has been on the record many times saying that Madrid is his favourite club.
However, Hazard decided to stay at Chelsea and has flourished under new boss Maurizio Sarri. After his unbelievable goal against Liverpool in the Carabao Cup, Chelsea assistant manager Gianfranco Zola said:
“Eden is one of the best in the world and that goal is proof.”
In the post-match analysis on Sky Sports, pundit Jamie Carragher said:
“He is the best player in the Premier League. It’s not because he scored that goal, I believe it. I think he should have been named the best player of the World Cup also.
“He is an absolute superstar. The last domestic cup game he played was the FA Cup final. He won that game by winning the penalty and scoring it.
“He won this game as well.”
Carragher’s claims can be justified. The best four players in last year’s Premier League, Mohammed Salah, Kevin De Bruyne, David De Gea and Harry Kane have all suffered from a lack of form or injury problems this season.
Salah scored 44 goals for Liverpool last season and was nominated for FIFA’s Player of the Year. However, the Egyptian has not been able to replicate his goalscoring magic for the Reds and looked out of sorts as he was hauled off early by manager Jurgen Klopp in the 1-1 draw with Chelsea.
Kevin De Bruyne has barely played yet this season due to injury, but manager Pep Guardiola has revealed that the Belgium midfielder has returned to training for Manchester City. De Bruyne was inspirational for Manchester City as they racked up a record 100 points in the Premier League last season.
David de Gea is another candidate for the Premier League’s best player. Over the last five years, he has been the best goalkeeper in the league, and arguably, the world. However, his form dipped during the World Cup for Spain, where amazingly, he only saved one shot in the whole tournament.
1 – David de Gea made one save at the 2018 World Cup (six goals conceded -exc. penalty shootout), fewer than any other goalkeeper in a single tournament since at least 1966 (minimum three games played). Strange. pic.twitter.com/AkkuklGtN8
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) July 1, 2018
Harry Kane has looked tired since his heroic World Cup displays for England, where he won the Golden Boot. He managed to rediscover his goalscoring touch in Tottenham’s 2-0 win over Huddersfield, but it will take a while for the England striker to regain his sharpness, fitness and form.
This leaves Hazard, who certainly has been the Premier League’s best player so far this season. New signings Jorginho and Mateo Kovavic have brought a new creative dimension to Chelsea’s midfield and the high-pressing style that Sarri has brought suits Hazard’s game to a tee.
Whether he has the ball or not, the winger is a constant threat, setting off on mazy dribbles, putting his teammates through with pin-point passes and making lethal runs whenever defenders turn their back on him.
A prime example of this is his goal in the Premier League against Liverpool, which made him the league’s top scorer. Hazard ran onto a gorgeous through ball from Kovacic, took a touch and hit a left-footed low shot just past the hand of a diving Alisson to put his team ahead and make him the Premier League’s top scorer.
Despite Chelsea finishing outside the top four last season, Hazard had the best dribbling stats of anyone in Europe’s top five leagues. He had a 77.10 % dribble success rate, while his closest competitor was Lyon’s Nabir Fekir on 69.23 %.
For added context Salah, the star of last season, who possesses skill, pace and a brilliant first touch — similar attributes to Hazard — attempted 141 dribbles but was successful 56.03 % of the time.
Hazard’s passing stats also make for impressive reading. He is top for passing accuracy in the final third of the pitch both this season (85.54%) and last season (83.11%) in the Premier League. He also created the most chances in the Premier League last season with 84.
The statistic that Hazard needs to improve on, however, is goals. Hazard scored 12 in the Premier League last season, the same as Brighton’s Glen Murray, while Salah won the Golden Boot with 32 for Liverpool.
Although Hazard’s goalscoring record does not compare to the likes of Salah, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, these stats show that last season, he was the most creative spark in the Premier League and the best dribbler in the world.
Manager Maurizio Sarri praised his star-player after a hat-trick against Cardiff in mid-September, but also heaped pressure on him:
“Yesterday I said to him that for me you can score 40 goals,” said Sarri of Hazard.
“But you have to spend less energy far from goal and you have to play in the last 25 metres of the field.”
Hazard has never surpassed the 18 goals he has scored in the 2016/17 season when Chelsea won the league under Antonio Conte. It seems unlikely that Hazard would be able to score twice that amount this season, especially if Sarri decides to rest him in cup fixtures.
Hazard did not even travel to Chelsea’s Europa League 1-0 win against PAOK, and was benched in their Carabao Cup clash with Liverpool.
Resting Hazard would mean he would be fresh for the Premier League and would boost Chelsea’s title challenge, but would also make it almost impossible for the 27-year-old to score 40 goals.
Hazard can take inspiration from Mohammed Salah’s 44 goal season for Liverpool last year. That total was more than twice the 19 goals he managed for Roma in all competitions the season before. Salah was certainly the best player in the league last season, but Hazard is not far from taking his crown.
Carragher suspects the forward, who has less than two years left on his current deal, will be the subject of more speculation in the coming months.
“There’s definitely going to be a question asked in January or at the end of the season when he will only have 12 months left,” he said.
Salah, De Bruyne, Kane and De Gea all make convincing cases but if Hazard keeps up this form, he will be the strong favourite for the PFA Player of the Year and maybe even the Golden Boot.
“When I arrived I thought that Hazard was one of the best players in Europe,” Sarri said.
“Now I have changed my mind: maybe he is the best.”
Hazard would not look out of place in the famous white of Madrid, but for now, he may be better off capitalising off this new look Chelsea and claiming his throne as the Premier League’s best player.