Eden Hazard was subbed off in the 71st minute of Chelsea’s Champions League clash with Paris Saint-Germain, but it wasn’t his anonymous display that forced Guus Hiddink to haul the Belgian off.
The interim Chelsea boss admitted after the game that Hazard struggled - not for the first time this season - due to a lack of fitness.
Chelsea produced a spirited performance and, despite losing 2-1, will be buoyed by John Obi Mikel’s away goal.
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However, Hazard’s performance put a downer on an otherwise good night for Hiddink.
The Dutchman told Sky after the match: “He was a threat going forward and he had some good runs, but of course, this was a game with a high intensity. After 65, 70 minutes, it was enough for him," reported Goal.
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“He has to grow and when he does, his shape will grow as well. Happily we also have Oscar for his position. He will get better and better.”
Hazard received a 6.8 rating from statistics sight WhoScored. Of all starters, only Branislav Ivanovic (playing out of his favoured position), Mikel (who scored) and Pedro recorded lower numbers.
As several players have improved since Hiddink’s arrival in December, including John Terry, Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa, Hazard remains a significantly worse player to the one that earned Premier League Footballer of the Year honours last term.
This is perhaps shown in Hiddink’s usage of the former Lille man. Of the nine games Hazard has been fit in the 69-year-old’s short reign, he has only started four times.
Hazard risked irking the Chelsea hierarchy by revealing to Le Parisien that a move to PSG would be difficult to turn down. Hiddink hit back by daring the winger to first prove his worth to the Blues before considering a move elsewhere.
“Well, he has a contract that he extended but first he must get fit and show he is a top player and then for Chelsea, which is a top club, he can be of huge value,” Hiddink told reporters.
The substitute almost proved fruitful for Chelsea, Oscar coming close to poking Fabregas’ long pass beyond Kevin Trapp moments before Edinson Cavani netted PSG’s winner.
The return leg is now finely poised, with the French side holding the lead but Chelsea having an all-important away goal. It could prove crucial considering the two previous meetings between the sides have been decided by the away goal ruling.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic put the hosts ahead with a deflected free-kick but PSG’s lead lasted only six minutes, Mikel smashing home after Costa’s flick on.
But Cavani, who had only been on the pitch for four minutes, gave Laurent Blanc’s team a slender advantage when he peeled off Ivanovic and met Angel Di Maria’s lofted pass to smash between Thibaut Courtois’ legs.