Eden Hazard’s forever changing form – it’s one of the Premier League’s biggest mysteries.
The Belgian romped his way to the PFA Player of the Year Award in 2015 and inspired the Blues to a second Premier League title in three years with a series of superb showings this year. However, sandwiched in the middle was a campaign that saw him take eight months to bag his first league goal.
Okay, so almost every Chelsea player suffered a decline in 2015-16 but Hazard was a particularly notable case. He simply rose from the Premier League’s finest player, to a bit-part midfielder and then back again.
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While the initial decline can perhaps be explained away by some underlying complacency or suffering teammates, what allowed him to pick his form back up so effortlessly?
The obvious answer is of course Antonio Conte yet Guus Hiddink’s inability to inspire Hazard shows a simple managerial switch won’t necessarily do the job.
In fact, as revealed by Frank Lampard, Hazard did in fact take his poor attitude from 2015-16 into the start of this campaign. Nevertheless, it’s clear that Conte wasn’t having any of it and the Belgian’s form has been the main benefactor.
Lampard officially hung up his boots earlier this year yet had spent time at his beloved club as means of working towards his coaching badges. It was at this point that rumours about Hazard’s behavior started to reach him.
Speaking to the BBC, the 38-year-old stated: “Antonio Conte took on a team in a bad place and there were a few individuals who had their worst seasons in Chelsea shirts and he fixed it.
“Mid-season there were rumours that Eden Hazard was being a bit difficult on the training field but Conte dealt with it immediately.
“He came down on it with an iron fist and then he put an arm around him and that has brought the best out in him.”
So it seems that, for all his talent, Hazard can be a bit of handful. Perhaps it should come as no surprise then that his finest two seasons came under the respectively stringent regimes of Conte and Jose Mourinho.
While we’ll never quite know how Conte stamped out the 26-year-old’s awkwardness, it’s worked a treat. Besides, Hazard seemed certain for another PFA award if it wasn’t for N’Golo Kante and his astonishing consistency.
The challenge of another title defence lays ahead for Chelsea, though, and given the results last time, it should prove a bizarrely daunting task.
Conte will be hoping to do a better job than Mourinho in ensuring his side enter 2017-18 with the same winning attitude that saw them romp to silverware this year. Ensuring Hazard is in the right mindset will be crucial to any such ambition.
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