Hazard inspires Chelsea recovery, shows what team could miss
Chelsea should be savoring Eden Hazard’s talents while he is still with the team.
As the winger’s contract winds down, his future at Stamford Bridge appears more uncertain. Even as manager Maurizio Sarri talks up the contribution of a player, in his prime at 27, who has shown no public indication that he will commit to Chelsea beyond 2020.
“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. But I also think he can still improve more.”
Despite his pace, flair and artistry on the ball, the Belgium international just doesn’t score enough.
Sarri lauded Hazard’s importance to the team after tearing apart Cardiff with three goals in a 4-1 victory on Saturday that made it five wins from five matches. But it was only Hazard’s second hat trick in six years at Chelsea.
Sarri has publicly mused in his first two months in charge how Hazard should be aiming to reach the feats of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, who are accustomed to scoring buckets of goals every year.
“I told him he can score 40 goals,” Sarri said. “He has to improve some things, but he can do it.”
Occasionally deployed as “false 9” or dropping too deep to be effective in front of goal, Hazard was on the left of a front three on Saturday alongside Pedro Rodriguez and Olivier Giroud, who didn’t score once in France’s run to the World Cup title and is scoreless in four Premier League games so far this season.
Hazard is already up to six goals in five games, a third of the way to matching his best tally at Chelsea in the 2016-17 season.
Hazard might not have European competitions to bulk up his haul, however. The slump from champions to fifth place last season means Chelsea dropped into the Europa League.
Although there are more games than the Champions League to reach the final, there is also an often draining turnaround of playing on Thursday nights and then resuming Premier League action on Sunday. Sarri said he is contemplating resting Hazard for the trip to Thessaloniki, where Chelsea opens its Europa League campaign against Greek club PAOK.
The Europa League has already proved costly for Burnley, which had to start its season in July when the rest of the Premier League was still involved in friendlies. The northwest club had to go through three qualifying rounds in an attempt to reach the group stage but fell short.
The early exertion is taking its toll, with last season’s seventh-place finishers in last place in the Premier League with a one point from five games. The last time Burnley lost four consecutive Premier League games it was relegated in 2015.
“The biggest thing of all is to free the focus of the players,” Burnley manager Sean Dyche said after Sunday’s 1-0 loss at Wolverhampton Wanderers. “When the players are playing with confidence everything flows a bit easier but to bring that flow back you have to be strong physically and mentally. We aren’t far off.”
When Tottenham plays Inter Milan in the Champions League on Tuesday, Harry Kane will have a point to prove.
With only two goals in five Premier League games so far, the striker’s fitness and form is under the microscope.
Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino said it would be “crazy” to contemplate dropping Kane.
“He’s one of the best strikers in the world,” Pochettino said. “I don’t care that he wasn’t great (in Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Liverpool). He’s going to score goals and he’s going to perform in the way we want and we expect. No problem.”
Although the England captain was the Golden Boot winner at the World Cup, three of the six goals came from penalties and another was a deflection. Signs of lethargy were already setting in during the tournament in Russia, with Kane failing to score in England’s last three games as it finished fourth.
Manchester United had to cope without Luke Shaw in Saturday’s win at Watford after the left back had a concussion while playing for England. But Shaw will return, and replace Ashley Young, in the starting lineup when United plays Young Boys in Switzerland in the Champions League on Wednesday.