Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has accepted that Eden Hazard is playing badly but still believes the Belgian is the Premier League's best player.
The Special One whipped up a storm of controversy after deciding to start Hazard on the bench in Tuesday's Champions League tie against Porto. That decision was criticised by fans and pundits alike after the Blues succumbed to a surprise 2-1 defeat.
The decision to drop Hazard came after a bad performance against Newcastle United, in which last season's PFA Player of the Year was singled out as a particular disappointment.
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Mourinho, however, has made it clear that Hazard remains high in his estimations and will play a key role in any success his side experiences. He also explained why Hazard had failed to perform against the Magpies.
“I said already, Eden Hazard’s the best player in this country,” Mourinho told the Telegraph. “If we arrive in May and Eden Hazard doesn't have a good period, we are in trouble and he is too because his season was very bad.
Lack of sleep
“He played very well against Arsenal. Against Newcastle, he was all night without sleeping because his baby was born that night, he travelled on the morning of the game and wasn't in the best condition.
"Then, in Porto, he stays on the bench and comes with a clear plan of playing later on for the last 30 minutes, but comes on immediately after we go 2-1 down when Porto are being compact at the back. Hazard is the best. He's in a period where he's not at the top of his game, but he's the best.”
While Mourinho may be backing Hazard publically, it is clear that the £200,000-a-week star is struggling to rekindle the kind of form that inspired Chelsea to the Premier League title last season.
He is yet to register a goal in nine appearances across all competitions, although he did fire the shot that deflected off Calum Chambers in a recent 2-0 win over Arsenal. The game against the Gunners was probably Hazard's and Chelsea's best performance of the current campaign.
It stands as proof that Chelsea's fortunes rely heavily on the form of their diminutive winger and getting him back to the top of his game will be key if Mourinho is to salvage the Blues' season.