With the one-year anniversary of the Europa League triumph not far behind us, it gave Chelsea fans the opportunity to reflect upon one of the greatest all-time individual performances the Europa League final has ever seen. The individual in question, Eden Hazard, went into the game knowing this would be the last time he would ever put on a Chelsea shirt, and went out like many club legends of the past could only dream of. The Belgian had dragged his team kicking and screaming to a third place finish in the league and made sure the last image the Chelsea fans would have of him was lifting a European trophy high above his head.
For many with blue tinted glasses like myself, Hazard produced one the greatest individual seasons in Premier League history, especially given the dysfunctional circumstances of his team at the time. Despite taking home the inhouse Player of the Season, he was somewhat snubbed by the Premier League equivalent, that was hotly contested between Raheem Sterling and eventual winner, Virgil Van Dijk.
Upon the fond recollection of Hazard’s individual brilliance almost a year on, I thought I would compare his 18/19 season to previous highly acclaimed performances of the past, and answering the question ‘was he actually as good as we remember?’
The Belgian was the only player in the Premier League in the 2018/19 season to reach double figures on goals and assists, finishing with 16 and 15 respectively. Among elite attacking players, this is not an unusual feat, with the likes of Christian Eriksen, Riyad Mahrez and more reaching the same goal, albeit with smaller combined goal contributions than Hazard’s 31. However, Mohammed Salah achieved this same feat back in 17/18, yet blew all expectations out the water with his goal tally of 32 and assist total of 10; a combined for a goal contribution of 42 for the season.
Hazard was widely regarded as Chelsea’s main, if not only, attacking threat last season. Sarri depended on the Belgian as the team’s source of creation and driving force in the final third. During the last third of the season, the introduction of Hudson-Odoi and Loftus Cheek helped carry the burden slightly before injuries ended their seasons. Otherwise it was veterans Willian and Pedro to help the now Galactico, whom both offered little in terms of attacking output.
Willian recorded six assists and three goals in 2109 minutes, whilst Pedro manged two assists and eight goals in 1781 minutes- 19 goal contributions combined. Meanwhile, in Salah’s recording breaking 17/18 season, Sadio Mane registered seven assists and 10 goals and Firmino accumulated seven assists and 15 goals- 39 goal contributions.
Put plainly, the amount of focus that could be placed on Hazard was a direct consequence of those around him not possessing enough defensive attraction, resulting in small spaces to work in and heavy man marking, which makes the achievement even more noteworthy. This emphasis for Hazard to produce can be shown in the advanced possession stats. The Belgian was the target of a pass 79.4 times per 90 minutes, and of his 76 touches per 90, 68% were in the final third. In comparison, this season Kevin De Bruyne is the target of a pass 69.8 per 90, and only 53% of his touches are in the final third.
Although De Bruyne’s role in City’s team often requires him to occupy specific spaces and generally play a bit deeper than Hazard did at Chelsea, as the recognised creators for their respective teams, I think its highlights the vast disparity on their individual reliance to their team. Similarly to where Liverpool could look for Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino or Mo Salah, the current City team is stacked with creative personnel who could help carry the attacking load, including Sterling, Bernado Silva and Jesus, the likes Chelsea did not possess, putting heavy emphasis on Hazard to produce.
One criticism of Hazard’s season could be his efficiency in front of goal. On first glance his xG of 12.3 holds up pretty well compared to his actual 16 goal figure, however by removing penalties from that it plummets down to 9.25. Similarly, the Belgian only converted 0.31 of his shots on target into goals, which when stood up to Salah’s 0.48 in 2017/18, is a bit disappointing.
To revert back to my initial question, was Hazard as good as we remember, the answer could be answered with a simple Yes. Sort of contradictory to what I have just done, football is consumed by watching, and Hazard has been, and remains, one of the most exciting players to watch across world football, and the 18/19 season was the epitome of that. From his unforgettable goal against West Ham where he left Hammers defenders in knots, to the previously mentioned Europa League final performance; they all contributed to what Chelsea fans will remember as one of the best players to put on the shirt.
In reflection, I still believe he should have had more of a consideration for the Premier League POTS award, but this individual season still falls a little short of the previously acclaimed individual showings in modern Premier League history, such as Salah’s 17/18 one or potentially this current stretch of performances by Kevin De Bruyne.
All statistics gathered from FBref, Understat and WhoScored.com.
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By Tom Walker
Edited by Jai Mcintosh