Premier League holders Chelsea are off to an indifferent start to their title defense. The Blues have mustered just a single win in four games, and have slumped to two morale-sapping losses. Morale-sapping because one of them was at the hands of title rivals Manchester City while the other was against Crystal Palace at home, where Chelsea rarely lose.
There have been doom mongering all around the Stamford Bridge walls, and a lot of the blame has fallen the players’ way, and rightly so. One player from whom a lot has been expected but has thus far failed to deliver this season is Eden Hazard. It is no surprise Hazard’s poor form has coincided with Chelsea’s struggles; last season’s Player of the Year is the driving force behind his team.
Although four matches into the 2015/16 season is a small sample size and an inaccurate barometer for comparison, a look at Hazard’s fallen standards this season compared to last term can be seen to be linearly related to Chelsea’s failings. The Belgian hasn’t opened his scoring account and most of his per game statistics have taken a hit early on in the season.
According to figures from WhoScored.com, Hazard’s shots per game has come down from 2.1 per game last season to 1.0 per game this season. He has also struggled to have his way in individual battles, as his dribbles per game has dropped from league highest 4.8 last season to 3.5 in the four games so far. At this stage last season, Hazard had already scored and assisted in Chelsea’s four wins, which is a far cry from the status quo this time around.
The 24-year-old has also struggled to make an impact while going forwards; Chelsea’s preferred attacking zone is the left flank, which is Hazard’s starting position on the pitch. But half of the Blues’ goals this season have come from activity on the right, which points to opponents taking extra care against the threat of Hazard on the left. Even his assist to Pedro against West Brom saw him in the ‘hole’ area with man coverage on him.
While it is not that Hazard hasn’t been trying – he has created the highest number of chances for his side (13) – his influence in decisive terms has somewhat reduced which has also reduced Chelsea’s attacking threat. Which cannot entirely be attributed to the Belgian as his team-mates in the attacking third have been, if not more, equally underwhelming.
But as manager Jose Mourinho said after the Palace defeat, “If you are the best player in the league, I think it should be a good responsibility to have a similar season than in the previous season,” Hazard’s contribution to Chelsea’s cause has simply not been good enough. With Chelsea facing a trip to Everton after the international break, one will hope the diminutive star comes back from international commitments better focused to perform to the standards he set last season.