Hazard back on top as Chelsea and Conte set up Mourinho showdown

Getty Images
The Belgium playmaker conceded that he hasn't been himself in recent weeks but happily for Chelsea fans he was back on form in the FA Cup semi-final

Eden Hazard this week admitted that his form over the past couple of months has been far beneath his expected level.

There have been grumblings of disappointment from supporters with the Belgian playmaker’s form but Hazard himself is his own harshest critic.

He’s been on a luckless run in front of goal – only one scored his last 10 games – while Chelsea’s collective form has been questionable since that Champions League last-16 first-leg draw against Barcelona at Stamford Bridge.

It was a welcome return to form then for the 27-year-old against Southampton at Wembley on Sunday as Chelsea set up a showdown with Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United on May 19 in the FA Cup final.

Hazard may not have got on the scoresheet himself but he conjured the most important moment of the match – just after half-time – when Olivier Giroud handed Antonio Conte’s team the lead.

Hazard pulled the ball down majestically before supplying the Frenchman whose finish was Messi-esque. There was both poise and tenacity in Hazard’s action before the goal and the moment crowned what was his most complete performance of this recent difficult period for Conte’s team.

He was influential throughout and he appeared to be a more confident figure with the ball at his feet. There is no doubt that on his day Hazard is unplayable but even the man himself conceded that those days have been few and far between in recent weeks.

Chelsea’s season has died a death on two fronts since the defeats to Barcelona in the Champions League and Tottenham in the race for the top four but they remain in contention for a trophy they last won in 2012. They were ousted by Arsenal in last year's final as a bid for the double fell flat but victory here next month would certainly provide some consolation for Conte in what could well be his last game in charge. 

And if Chelsea are to gain success against United then Hazard will again have an integral role to play.

Chelsea celebrate FA Cup

Conte will be relieved too with the contribution from the bench of Alvaro Morata. The striker endured a difficult night in Burnley on Thursday - reacting with some petulance when he was substituted – and had to kick his heels at Wembley while Giroud retained his starting berth.

The forward signed from Arsenal for £18m has been in better touch than Morata of late and there was perhaps a sense that he had won the striker’s shirt from the ex-Real Madrid man.

Article continues below

He took his goal well – extending his run of extraordinary success in the FA Cup (he has scored more goals than anyone in the competition since 2012) – but his output was matched by Morata. He took his header well – definitively extinguishing Southampton’s hopes – and could have had at least one more when Hazard picked him out in the box.

There are question marks against the Spain international but his goal was a welcome riposte to those who had been sniping against him.

The day though was tailored for Hazard. The Chelsea fans sang his name fondly in injury time as he was named as the official man of the match. And he deserved it; Hazard was excellent. What Conte can hope for now is that this game can re-establish his confidence with his ex-manager Mourinho looming on the horizon.