Eden Hazard has officially swapped his Chelsea blue for Real Madrid white in a deal worth £88m without add-ons. Despite being treasured by the Chelsea faithful, the Belgian couldn’t resist the urge for making a switch that can help his career reach a whole new height. How does this play out for Chelsea? How can they replace a person who has been so crucial to their plans for the past seven years? Especially, when a transfer ban looms ahead?
HOW IMPORTANT WAS HE FOR CHELSEA?
Eden Hazard has been Chelsea’s indubitable talisman over the years. Without his magical prowess in the opposition half, Chelsea’s attack had been far from its absolute best.
Let’s take a glance back at Chelsea’s disastrous 2015/16 campaign. Mourinho’s side started off as defending champions, but halfway through the campaign Chelsea found themselves in all sorts of trouble; they were losing everywhere, barely kept themselves up from the danger zone and eventually sacked their most successful manager in history.
Hazard was way off his game throughout that season. His passing was poor, his dribbling was predictable; Eden Hazard was a shadow of the player who spearheaded the West Londoners Premier League triumph the previous season. Hazard had a season to forget and so did Chelsea, who finished 10th that season.
Hazard’s sudden fall from grace led everyone to believe that was the end of the road for the Belgian international; another early demise of a talent tipped to reach the levels of Messi and Ronaldo. But the former Lille player was back to his best soon the very next season. Well, it wasn’t much of an ask to improve on a record of 14 goal contributions (6 goals and 8 assists) in 43 appearances, but his improved stats of 17 goals and 7 assists in the same number of appearances earned him another PFA Player of the Year Award and added another Premier League trophy in Chelsea’s trophy cabinet.
In the recently concluded 18/19 season, Hazard scored 16 and assisted 15 goals for the Blues, meaning Hazard was involved in 49.2% of Chelsea’s goals this season. To put this fact into perspective, you should know that no other player has ever been so much involved in a team’s total goal count in Premier League history.
WHAT IF THE TRANSFER BAN STAYS IN PLACE?
As if replacing a four-time PFA Player Of The Year weren’t difficult enough, the Chelsea hierarchy might have to find a way to fill the Hazard sized hole in the squad without accessing the transfer market.
Chelsea were investigated over the signing of 92 minor players by FIFA’s disciplinary committee and were found to be guilty of breaching FIFA regulations on 29 occasions. This resulted in a two-window transfer ban which comes in effect from this summer. An appeal to revoke the ban has already been dismissed by FIFA. Now, the six-time English top flight champions have taken the matter to Court of Arbitration for Sport.
If CAS upholds the ban, Christian Pulisic will be the only new arrival to the club, whose transfer was agreed with Borussia Dortmund before the end of last season. Can the highly rated American be a like for like replacement for the mercurial Belgian?
Just like Eden Hazard, dribbling is the biggest threat in Pulisic’s arsenal. He likes taking on players and deceive them with his footwork. The 20-year-old has an envying dribbling stat of 9.11 successful dribbles this season, which weighs up real close with Hazard’s average of 9.53. Pulisic is at his best while he’s deployed on either wing and can also play a central attacking midfielder role.
Hazard flourished in Maurizio Sarri’s high press, high tempo style of play where he moved in towards the center from wide spaces. This, in turn, distracted the opposition defense and made room for a charging fullback to assault from wide. Pulisic has also been seen drifting in and out of central and wide positions at Dortmund. So, it’s arguable that he can get the job done at Chelsea too.
Here’s the catch, though-Sarri’s Chelsea future is also uncertain. The former Napoli manager has his eye set on the Juventus vacancy, so he might be out of his way as well. There’s no guarantee Chelsea will stick with the 4-3-3 setup we’ve seen this season, so it remains to be seen how Pulisic is being used next season and how he copes with the change in environment.
Chelsea’s homegrown boy Callum Hudson Odoi has also been touted as a possible Hazard replacement. The 18-year-old is widely considered to be the next big thing and Chelsea is having a hard time keeping hold of him, with German heavyweights Bayern Munich keeping an eye on the situation. Odoi tried to leave Chelsea being frustrated by the lack of opportunities, but with Hazard out of the picture, Odoi could see his chances of regular game time increase manifold.
Odoi has the talent, but asking him to walk into Hazard’s shoes straight away is a definite big ask. The likes of David Luiz have also backed the England international to replace Hazard, although the reality is different. Callum Hudson Odoi is a raw talent that needs to be nurtured properly before asking him to take on such a big responsibility. But once he is ready to unlock his full potential, he could be the new driving force of Chelsea’s attack.