Chelsea: Player of the Year contenders
Eden Hazard, Frank Lampard & Juan Mata all feature in Chelsea's Player of the Year contenders
Chelsea have had a topsy turvy kind of season. The Blues could end up with another European trophy as they look set to reach the Europa League final and they could also claim a top four finish which would secure Champions League football at the Bridge next season.
Certain players have stood out more than others throughout the course of the season, and here we look at six of the best from the 2012/13 season:
The signing of Eden Hazard was a major scalp for the Blues last May, and although he hasn’t matched his marvellous final season with Lille, the Belgian international has been one of the brightest stars at Stamford Bridge this season.
The 22-year-old has smoothly adapted to the increased physicality of the Premier League, twisting and wriggling away from markers with his superb agility and balance. The young Belgian has also impressed spectators with his deceptive strength and outstanding reliability to maintain possession under pressure.
Chelsea, who were heavily criticised for their defensive approach under Roberto Di Matteo last season, look like a new side with Hazard on the pitch. His electric pace and individual brilliance has offered a refreshing outlet to a Blues side that looked dangerously one-dimensional last campaign.
Statistics further highlight just how important the young winger has been to Chelsea in his debut Premier League season, notching 10 goals and 12 assists in 36 appearances across all competitions so far. Hazard has also averaged 1.7 successful dribbles per game in the Premier League, more than any other Chelsea player so far this season.
Currently leading the Premier League goal-scoring charts for Chelsea this season and only two strikes shy of Bobby Tambling’s all-time record - there isn’t much more Frank Lampard can do to earn himself a new contract from Abramovich.
The 34-year-old is no longer the ever-present midfield genius of previous years, but his sporadic appearances have not limited his trademark ability to inspire the Blues. ‘Super Frank’ has bagged 12 goals in the Premier League this term, but his importance to Chelsea has derived from another feature of his game.
The marvellous intelligence of the England international has helped him glide into a deeper midfield role where he can spray passes around the park with more precision and composure. In addition to this, the impeccable leadership of the three-time Chelsea Player of the Year has kept his teammates heads above water as the absence of John Terry coincided with numerous off-field controversies involving the Blues.
After contributing so much to the club, Lampard is undoubtedly equal to JT in terms of legendary status at Stamford Bridge. Allowing the midfielder to depart with so much left to give would cause significant damage to the image and character of Chelsea Football Club.
After finally being allowed to flourish in his favoured role behind the striker, Juan Mata has produced a scrapbook of magical moments already this season.
With a season of Premier League experience over Eden Hazard, the 24-year-old has arguably been the Blues’ best player this season due to his superior consistency over the entire campaign. The midfield wizard has netted 14 goals and 18 assists in all competitions so far this season and must sustain his exceptional form to help secure Europa League crown and more importantly, Champions League football next term.
Mata has been a vital player for the Stamford Bridge outfit in a rocky campaign, earning himself a spot among the candidates for the PFA Player of the Year award. The Spaniard’s capacity to shine in a largely disappointing side this term underlines his immense quality and long-term importance to the club.
Considering he is held in such high regard at one of the biggest clubs in Europe, it is a daunting fact that the former Valencia star can’t hold down a regular place in the Spanish national side.
The unpredictable Brazilian has frustrated and amazed in equal measure this season, but his moments of brilliance certainly deserve significant applause.
The athletic centre-back is an outside contender for the Chelsea Player of the Year Award, and ironically he has produced his most telling moments in and around the opposition penalty area. The former Benfica man has scored a handful of sensational goals of great importance this season – most notably a 35-yard pile driver against Fulham and a stoppage time free-kick versus Basel.
At 26-years-old, Chelsea fans are beginning to wonder if the flamboyant defender will ever mature into the solid and ever-reliable John Terry replacement he was signed to be. His occasional defensive fragility has signalled a possible switch to midfield - a position where his attacking flair can flourish without causing fatal cracks in defence.
Alternating between the hero and villain role for much of the campaign, ‘Sideshow Dave’ can only blame his inconsistent nature for failing to pick up the illustrious club award. Whether or not the incoming Chelsea boss deploys him at the back or the middle of the park, the Brazil international can utilise his pace, vision and ball skills to push for the Player of the Year accolade next year.
Quick, solid and clever, the 23-year-old has stamped his authority as the first-choice right-back at The Bridge. After impressing in the absence of other more established defenders, Azpilicueta has become a key feature in the Blues’ backline in his debut Premier League season.
Rafael Benitez has rotated his central defensive partnership to compensate for injury, fatigue and form, but despite the constant reshuffling the Spanish fullback appears to have permanently marked his name on the team sheet.
Building a reliable and ever-present reputation similar to Ashley Cole on the opposite flank, the former Marseille man does not receive the recognition he deserves. While the Blues must start planning for life after John Terry and Ashley Cole, the right-back position does not require attention as long as Azpilicueta is around.
It feels like the giant Czech keeper has been between the sticks at Stamford Bridge forever, and he’s showing no signs of departing in the foreseeable future.
As he has done over his entire Chelsea career, the 30-year-old has rescued the Blues with some incredible reflex saves on number of occasions this season – most memorably is unbelievable reaction stop against Manchester United in the FA Cup in early April.
Despite his backline occasionally succumbing to lapses his concentration, Cech has made 176 saves so far this season and kept 12 clean sheets according to the EA Sports Player Performance Index.
Although he has not enjoyed his best ever Chelsea season by any means, the Czech international has been a crucial factor in stabilising a campaign that could easily have spiralled into disaster earlier on in the season.
Who do you think deserves to win the Chelsea Player of the Year Award? Leave your opinion in the comments below!
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