Eden Hazard’s claim that he would work under his former manager Jose Mourinho again was not the most likely story in the build-up to Chelsea’s game against their former manager on Saturday.
The Belgian's Premier League career has been a steady progression towards his current status as one of the world’s best players, with one major derailment: the 2015-16 season under Mourinho, which saw the manager responsible for 50 per cent of the club’s league titles sacked by that same club for the second time.
At the time, Hazard’s lamentable form was spun as some part of a player protest against Mourinho, and the drop in his output was definitely a real thing.
Hazard went from scoring 14 goals in 2014-15 that helped inspire a league title win, to a freefall of just four in 2015-16. He then shot back up to 16 in 2016-17, delivering another Premier League medal under Antonio Conte.
The 27-year-old now claims that dip in form was simply down to a lack of preparation, rather than any problem with the Portuguese: "After the title, we asked Mourinho for extra holidays," he revealed. "I came back totally out of shape. We didn't win, we got into a sort of routine - training, training without having fun. It was better for all parties that the collaboration came to an end."
Even with that 2015-16 drop in numbers, Hazard’s output in his six-and-a-quarter seasons in England is considerable.
Above all, the Belgian offers a reliable outlet with his ability to run at defenders and score goals. A look at players with 200 plus appearances since 2012 to complete three plus dribbles per 90 minutes and score at least 0.1 goal per 90 throws up just five men.
|Player||Games Played*||Successful dribbles/90 mins||Goals/90 mins|
Hazard is clearly the outstanding entry too, scoring more than Wilfried Zaha and being considerably younger than Alexis Sanchez (who at least rivals Hazard's output, or did at one time anyway).
Liverpool fans may well be interested to see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in there too, a glimpse of the type of player Anfield is missing while he recovers from injury.
With direct involvement in 10 Premier League goals already, what exactly is different about Hazard this season?
|Season||xG per shot|
Well, the average quality (xG) of the chances he’s getting this season is around 0.14, or 14%, meaning the average player would score around one in seven, though Hazard is scoring at about twice that rate. He’s already racked up an xG total in 2018-19 higher than he did in the whole of 2015-16. It must have been some holiday!
Secondly, new Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri has given Hazard a freedom he simply didn’t have under Conte, and surely wouldn’t under Mourinho either.
More touches per 90 in all the zones on the left flank, as you might have expected before the season had begun, but the biggest increase is in the central zone outside the penalty area; the valley of the playmakers. An additional eight touches per 90 is significant, and partly explains the increase in xG for Hazard in the opening weeks of 2018-19.
All in all, his sudden elevation in goalscoring output looks rather more sustainable than the idea of hooking up with Mourinho once again.