Chelsea waiting for Eden Hazard to emerge from slump
Feb. 18, 2016
MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Guus Hiddink's arrival as Chelsea manager has sparked a drastic improvement in a number of the team's attacking stars.
Diego Costa, Oscar, Cesc Fabregas, even Pedro Rodriguez. All look different players now Jose Mourinho is no longer in charge at Stamford Bridge.
So when is Eden Hazard going to come good? Because the slump in form of the Belgium winger is one of the mysteries of the season.
Hazard was voted English soccer's Player of the Year for the 2014-15 season by both his peers and writers, after scoring 19 goals and being arguably Chelsea's standout player in its run to the Premier League and League Cup titles. Many felt he would make the step up to challenge Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as the game's top star.
Fast forward to this season and Hazard is no longer assured of even being in the team heading into Sunday's FA Cup match against Manchester City, which is the headline fixture of the fifth round. He has completed 90 minutes just once in 2016 and has scored only one club goal all season — a sympathy penalty in a big win over MK Dons in the FA Cup fourth round.
Already testing the patience of Chelsea fans with his performances, Hazard didn't do himself any favors this week by telling French newspaper Le Parisien, ahead of a Champions League game against Paris Saint-German, that it would be "difficult to say no to" PSG or any other team capable of winning the Champions League. Is he eyeing a big move for next season already?
Hazard was substituted against PSG after another sub-standard display and may even lose his place to Oscar against City for the first high-profile match in the FA Cup this season.
Chelsea is looking to win the world's oldest club knockout competition for the fifth time in the last 10 years and is in better form than City, having lost only once — 2-1 against PSG — in 12 games since Hiddink took over.
City, meanwhile, has lost its last two games, at home against title rivals in the Premier League, and has injury problems in midfield. Manager Manuel Pellegrini may also have one eye on next week, when City resumes its Champions League campaign with a trip to Dynamo Kiev in the last 16, and could play a weakened team at Stamford Bridge.
There has been a shortage of shocks in this season's FA Cup, meaning most of the country's big teams are still involved.
Here's some more things to know about the fifth round:
TAMED BY THE SHREWS?
The biggest so-called "giant-killing" could come when Manchester United heads to third-tier Shrewsbury on Monday. And it's the last thing Louis van Gaal needs right now.
The United manager has enough on his mind, with his team struggling to qualify for the Champions League through the Premier League and seeing captain and star striker Wayne Rooney joining an injury list that now contains 13 players. Rooney has a knee injury and British media are reporting he could be out for 6-8 weeks.
Shrewsbury, a market town from central England whose soccer team plays at a 9,875-capacity stadium, has already beaten two teams higher up the English pyramid — second-tier Cardiff and Sheffield Wednesday — and is in the fifth round for the first time since 1991. And it caused a big shock in 2003, winning 2-1 in the third round against an Everton side containing Rooney.
In 19th place in the third tier, Shrewsbury is the lowest-ranked team left in the competition.
Arsenal is four victories away from winning the FA Cup for a third straight time. Next up for Arsene Wenger's side is second-tier Hull, in a rematch of the 2014 final that Arsenal won 3-2 after extra time.
There are two more all-Premier League matchups: Bournemouth vs. Everton; and Tottenham vs. Crystal Palace.
In other games, Reading hosts West Bromwich Albion, West Ham visits Blackburn and Watford is at home to Leeds.