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Eden Hazard is the most gifted Chelsea player ever... but is he about to leave? Featured

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Published in England Premier League
Tuesday, 05 December 2017 10:38

The coming summer is set to be a landmark one for Eden Hazard – and one in which his future career path is decided, writes Dan Levene.

If there were small signs of irritation at the outrageous Panenka the Belgian dinked into the net against Newcastle United, then Antonio Conte was doing his best to keep them hidden.
“The important thing for me is to score, and it happened, and I am happy for this,” said the Chelsea boss.

But Hazard's softly-struck trickery might have been seen by some as a risk; and Conte doesn't like players taking risks.
Of course it is likely the man in the number 10 shirt saw it as no risk at all: so full of confidence is he at the moment, and so sure is he of his own ability as a player.

Hazard is almost certainly the most gifted player ever to pull on the Chelsea shirt. Those who watched Gianfranco Zola may have been simply stunned at what he could pull out of the bag from time to time; Hazard manages to provoke that sort of incredulity almost every week right now.

It is a little over five years since Chelsea signed one of Europe's hottest properties. And, almost every summer since, the speculation has been about when he would move on to Real Madrid, or Paris Saint-Germain.

Hazard was one of the earliest examples of Chelsea's relatively recent shift in transfer policy: towards young talent that can be developed, and which will return a healthy profit on re-sale. And, though sometimes accused of a lack of consistency, Hazard has more than delivered on the first part of that deal: notably in the Blues' title-winning 2014-15 season, when he was named both PFA and Football Writers player of the year.
Turning 27 in January, he has reached that stage in his career where greatness is often defined: his powers are at their greatest, and the law of averages says he should enjoy a purple patch, before his athleticism starts to decline around the age of 30. But 27 is also a significant time in any player's career: the point where thoughts turn to playing legacy; where that final move might be considered.

This will also be, lest we forget, a World Cup summer: and Hazard could not be placed any more centrally in the shop window than when playing for his national side against England; for a side under pressure to show delivery from its golden generation.

At his club, Conte is doing much to help Haard towards greatness, whether it be in the longer term with Chelsea, or to up his price for a summer move. The deployment of him as a second striker, alongside Alvaro Morata, has brought the superlatives tumbling-in this last month. In case you were unaware of a player in his prime right now, the way he has excelled in his more central role has made it entirely impossible to miss.
With two and a half years left on his contract, we are at the point in the cycle where a club must decide whether to stick or twist. Run the contract down under two years and a player's sell-on value starts to diminish. The choice in the summer will be to announce either a new deal, or a new club.

Conte's only concern is to get the best out of his side, and to secure results. But his management of Hazard is, of course, a double-edged sword: help him soar, and he will be happy; but the higher he goes, the clearer his outline will be to those clubs that might covet his ability.

So will Hazard decide this summer to effectively pledge his career to Chelsea? Or will he move on to a bigger pay day, in a league where he will have far more space to deliver? That largely depends on the size of the bidding: as last summer showed, even the world's biggest sides are forced to become selling clubs at a certain point.

But, for Hazard, it won't be just about money. It will be about where he can most enjoy his football, and where his family can be most comfortable. Conte is working very hard right now trying to ensure that, in both cases, the answer is 'Chelsea'.

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  • Marko Arnautovic strikes as West Ham put dent in Chelsea’s title hopes

    Premier League, London Stadium - West Ham 1 (Arnautovic 6') Chelsea 0

    Chelsea’s title ambitions were dented by a resurgent West Ham side, as a Marko Arnautovic strike saw them record a shock 1-0 win at the London Stadium.
    David Moyes, who dropped England goalkeeper Joe Hart to the bench for the match, saw his new side cling on for the three points – his first victory as West Ham manager in five matches.

    West Ham enjoyed several early chances, often profiting from errors from Davide Zappacosta.
    Showing the kind of inventiveness and craft expected of the reigning champions – rather than the beleaguered relegation candidates – the home side took the lead after just six minutes when Arnautovic curled a wonderful left-footed shot into the bottom corner, after exchanging passes with Manuel Lanzini.

    Tiemoue Bakayoko, playing in a more advanced position than usual, was guilty of failing to track his man in the build-up to the opening goal.

    The Hammers sat back on the lead for much of the first half, committing numbers in the final third and frequently nullifying speculative crosses intended for Alvaro Morata.
    Conte made positive changes in the second half, with Pedro and Willian replacing Bakayoko and Zappacosta, but they couldn’t break down a resilient West Ham in the final third.

    Chelsea created two excellent chances to equalise in the final 10 minutes, but both were squandered: Morata volleyed a close-range effort wide and Hazard could have done much better with a wayward shot from the edge of the area.

    The Hammers' first win in eight matches allowed them to overtake Crystal Palace into 18th place. Chelsea, meanwhile, might find themselves 14 points behind leaders Manchester City by the conclusion of the weekend.

    MAN OF THE MATCH: Angelo Ogbonna
    Adam Cresswell and Marko Arnautovic were among West Ham’s star performers, but Ogbonna was exceptional in dealing with the aerial pressure that Chelsea delivered for most of the game.
    PLAYER RATINGS
    West Ham: Adrian 7, Zabaleta 7, Reid 8, Ogbonna 8, Cresswell 8, Obiang 7, Noble 7, Arnautovic 7, Lanzini 8, Masuaku 8, Antonio. 7 Subs: Sakho 6, Ayew, 7.

    Chelsea: Courtois 6, Azpilicueta 7, Christensen 7, Cahill 6, Zappacosta 5, Bakayoko 6, Kante 7, Fabregas 7, Alonso 6, Hazard 7, Morata 6. Subs: Moses 6, Willian 6, Pedro 6.

    KEY MOMENTS
    6 - GOAL! Antonio finds Arnautovic on the edge of the area and he plays a lovely one-two on the edge of the area with Lanzini. The Austrian places a left-footed shot low past Courtois!

    21 - CHANCE: Azpilicueta sends in a powerful cross for Morata. Ogbonna clears as far as Hazard, who volleys just wide.

    58 - CHANCE: Zappacosta cuts in on his right foot and shoots from around 25 yards. It goes narrowly wide.
    84 - CHANCE: Kante picks out Morata wth a superb through-ball and the Spaniard is played onside by Masuaka. He volleys wide with a very powerful shot! That was a huge chance to equalise!

    85 - CHANCE: Morata feeds Hazard on the edge of the box with a great flick, but the Belgian shoots high and wide! Another glorious chance!
    KEY STATS
    Marko Arnautovic is the 140th different player to score a Premier League goal for West Ham.

    David Moyes has won five out his last last six Premier League home matches against the defending champions. Four of those wins came against Italian managers.

    This is Chelsea’s first defeat in eight league games.

  • Chelsea lose top spot with Atletico Madrid draw

    Champions League Group C, Stamford Bridge - Chelsea 1 (Savic OG 75') Atletico Madrid 1 (Saul 56')

    Chelsea finished second in their Champions League group following a 1-1 draw with Atletico Madrid, which leaves them facing a tough draw in the next round.
    The Blues needed to secure victory at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday night, with Roma beating Qarabag in Italy, but the Giallorossi finish top of the pile in Group C, by virtue of their better head-to-head record against Chelsea, after the pair finished level on 11 points. Atletico fail to qualify for the last 16 for the finish time in five seasons.

    Saul gave Atletico the lead with a close range header in the 56th minute before Hazard's cross was deflected in by Stefan Savic to draw Chelsea level 15 minutes from time.
    Andreas Christensen and Willian both had glorious chances to score but they couldn't find a winner, meaning the Blues, as it stands, will face one of Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona or Besiktas in the next round.

    After a tame first half, Atletico knew they had to go for broke in the second period - as a win and Roma dropping points would be the only way they could qualify for the last 16 - and the visitors were soon in front thanks to Saul’s goal, provided by Fernando Torres on his return to Stamford Bridge.

    Antonio Conte shuffled his pack, with Willian and Pedro coming on, and that gave the hosts added impetus, and they were soon level after Savic diverted Hazard’s drilled cross into the net.
    Willian blazed over with the goal at his mercy late on, while Jan Oblak was inspired in the Atleti goal. Qualification was most important for Chelsea, but they could rue their profligacy when the draw comes around next Monday.

    TALKING POINT

    Did Chelsea take their foot off the gas too soon? The first half had a strange feel to it at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea weren’t really over-exerting, while Atleti seemed resigned to their fate. Had the Blues taken the lead, Atletico’s heads would have dropped. As it turned out, Chelsea were caught cold as Atleti upped their game after the break. A strong Chelsea side, in form, had to offer more in the first half. A tough tie could be in the offing in the last 16 as a result of such lethargy.
    MAN OF THE MATCH

    Eden Hazard. The Belgium international looked like a Galactico at Stamford Bridge. Only three players have completed more dribbles in the Champions League this season, and he continued to glide past players like they weren’t there on Tuesday night. Sometimes, his team-mates just couldn’t keep up.
    PLAYER RATINGS

    Chelsea: Courtois 7, Christensen 7, Cahill 7, Azpilicueta 6, Zappacosta 7, Fabregas 7, Kante 7, Bakayoko 5, Hazard 8, Moses 6, Morata 6... Subs: Willian 6, Pedro 6, Batshuayi 6.

    Atletico Madrid: Oblak 8, Gimenez 6, Savic 6, Lucas 6, Luis 7, Koke 6, Thomas 6, Gabi 7, Saul 7, Torres 6, Griezmann 5... Subs: Carrasco 6, Correa 6, Vietto 6.

    KEY MOMENTS

    38’ - SAVE! Brilliant from Zappacosta, as he deceives everyone by firing through the Partey's legs, towards Oblak's near post, but the Atleti stopper flings himself across to claw the ball out.

    56’ - GOOOOOOAAAALLLL!!!!! Chelsea 0-1 Atletico Madrid. It has been coming, as Saul Niguez heads home to give his side the lead! So what does that mean? Well, as it stands, it still isn't enough for Atleti, as Roma have taken the lead against Qarabag, and so, as it stands, Chelsea would finish second! Torres has done his bit for the goal, as he brilliantly flicked the ball on for the unmarked Saul to steer his header home. Poor from Bakayoko at the back post, he just let Saul go.
    67’ - MISS! A quick corner from Chelsea catches Atleti out, Fabregas whips it across for Christensen, but the Dane cannot find the target with his head from point-blank range.

    75’ - GOOOOOAAAAALLL! Chelsea 1-1 Atletico Madrid. Savic is the unfortunate man as he diverts Hazard's cross home to level things up. There is some controversy about that goal, as Morata did seem to get away with a push, but again Hazard is the man making things happen for Chelsea. Fabregas' cross found him at the back post, he burst to the byline, before firing across goal. Savic stuck out a leg, and could only watch on in horror as the ball flew into the net.
    77’ - SAVE! Almost immediately, Chelsea find themselves three on one, Morata is in, but Oblak races off his line to make a brilliant save. Can Chelsea win this now and win the group?

    85’ - MISS! That was the moment for Willian to win it after being picked out by Hazard, but the Brazilian blazes over the top!

    KEY STATS

    The last time Atletico were knocked out of the Champions League group stage was in 2009/10 when they won the Europa League at the end of the season.

    Even though they have progressed, only once have Chelsea had fewer points in the current Champions League group stage format (since 2003/04) - 2012/13 when being eliminated from the competition.

    The Blues have lost just one of their last 41 Champions League group stage matches at Stamford Bridge (W3

  • Chelsea narrowly overcome Swansea as Conte sent to stands

    Premier League, Stamford Bridge – Chelsea 1 (Rudiger 55) Swansea 0

    Antonio Rudiger’s scrappy second-half header proved the winner as Chelsea narrowly overcame strugglers Swansea at Stamford Bridge to extend their unbeaten run to six games.
    The defender was well positioned at the back post to nod in from N’Golo Kante’s deflected shot 10 minutes after the restart. It was the German’s first goal for the club and it proved an important one as the Blues moved to within three points of second-placed Manchester United.

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    They did however find their way past an ultra-defensive Swansea side which failed to register a shot on target - even if the goal did come in fortuitous fashion.

    The win means Chelsea move to 32 points, three behind Manchester United and nine behind league-leaders Manchester City. Meanwhile, Swansea have now lost five of their last six games and remain 19th.

    TALKING POINT

    Antonio Conte sees red: The Italian has never been sent to the stands in his career, but perhaps he has never been under this much pressure. Conte had watched his side struggle to break down Swansea and on 43 minutes he lost his cool when Neil Swarbrick decided to give the visitors a goal-kick when the ball appeared to hit Alfie Mawson last.
    Conte will have breathed a sigh of relief when Rudiger finally broke the deadlock and he can now look forward to a favourable run of fixtures. After all, only one of their next eight league games is against a team currently in the top half - and that is against goal-shy Southampton. There are no more excuses left.

    MAN OF THE MATCH

    Willian (Chelsea) – So often the super-sub for the Blues, Willian was brilliant from the start this time. The Brazilian's direct running caused problems for the Swans and his dangerous deliveries ought to have created the opener before it finally arrived.

    PLAYER RATINGS

    Chelsea: Courtois 6, Cahill 6, Rudiger 7, Alonso 8, Christensen 6, Zappacosta 7, Fabregas 7, Kante 7, Pedro 7, Willian 8, Morata 7. Subs: Drinkwater 6, Hazard 6,, Moses 6.

    Swansea: Fabianski 8, Van Der Hoorn 7, Mawson 7, Naughton 7, Olsson 6, Ki 6, Carroll 6, Mesa 6, Sanches 4, Ayew 6, Bony 5. Subs: Fer 6, Routledge 6, McBurnie 6.

    KEY MOMENTS

    10' - CLOSE! Bony fouls Fabregas and Chelsea have a free-kick on the left wing. Willian curls in a delicious cross, all it needs is a touch from Alonso, but he misses it by a whisker and the ball also drifts agonisingly wide of the post.

    27' - SAVE! Morata shows great technique to keep his first-time instinctive side-footed effort on target and force Fabianski into a good save as he fingertips it over the bar.

    41' - CLOSE! Willian is given far too much space by Naughton and the Brazilian drills a low ball across the face of goal. It hits Mawson who is fortunate not to put the ball into the back of his net! Instead, it rolls behind and Neil Swarbrick wrongly awards Swansea a goal-kick.

    42' - DRAMA! - Conte is furious with Swarbrick - probably about the decision not to award Chelsea the corner - and his protests to the fourth official get him sent to the stands! The Italian's frustrations have boiled over.

    53' - MISS! Pedro should score. Willian goes past a number of Swansea defenders - at least three - before picking out Pedro from the byline. The Spaniard, however, skies his first-time effort over the bar from inside the box.

    55' - GOAL! Chelsea 1-0 Swansea - THERE'S THE BREAKTHROUGH! It comes in fortunate fashion, but Chelsea won't care a bit. Kante smashes a shot at goal from 20 yards. It deflects off the head of Bony and kindly into the path of Rudiger at the back post who heads the ball into the back of the net.

    61' - SAVE! Morata goes close with another header, this time from Fabregas' free-kick delivery, but Fabianski gets a fingertip to it. Swansea's goalkeeper is having a blinder.

    88' - SWANSEA GO CLOSE! Routledge, only on as a sub, dinks a lovely cross to the back post. It looks perfect for Bony, but he just doesn't react quickly enough and the ball rolls harmlessly out for a goal-kick.

    KEY STATS

    Chelsea have scored more headed goals in the Premier League this season than any other side (eight).
    Chelsea have now won eight and lost just one of their 13 Premier League meetings with Swansea.
    The Blues are unbeaten in six league matches, winning five of them.
    Conte's side have won 17 and lost only two of their last 28 Premier League home games played on a Wednesday.
    Cesar Azpilicueta didn't start a Chelsea Premier League game for the first

  • Chelsea's Luiz to miss Swansea match with knee injury

    Chelsea centre back David Luiz has been ruled out of Wednesday's home game against second-bottom Swansea City with a knee injury, manager Antonio Conte said.

    Luiz was dropped for Chelsea's last three Premier League matches against Manchester United, West Bromwich Albion and Liverpool.
    Conte said he was unlikely to start midfielder Victor Moses, who is fit again after more than a month out with a hamstring injury.

    "I can tell you who are the players not available," the Italian told a news conference on Tuesday. "Luiz for a knee problem... I must be honest at the moment it is difficult for me to answer (how long). It will be up to the doctor to assess it and take the best decision."

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  • Willian saves Chelsea after Mo Salah strikes again for Liverpool

    Premier League, Anfield - Liverpool 1 (Salah 65) Chelsea 1 (Willian 85)

    Willian came off the bench to snatch a freakish late equaliser as Chelsea held Liverpool to a 1-1 draw at Anfield.
    The Brazilian saw his dinked cross towards the far post drop over Simon Mignolet and into the back of the net five minutes from time as this fixture ended by the same scoreline for the third season running.
    Mohamed Salah had opened the scoring against his former employers with a cool finish in front of the Kop as he continues to makes waves in first season on Merseyside.

    The Egyptian did not celebrate as he took his tally to an impressive 15 goals in 20 appearances for the Reds.

    The result means Liverpool remain fifth, while Chelsea are third. The Blues are eight points behind leaders Manchester City, who can extend their lead if they win at Huddersfield on Sunday afternoon.

    TALKING POINT

    Salah shines again, but Liverpool can't hold a lead - again. The Reds went into the contest on a strong run of results, but the focus had been on the way they let a 3-0 lead slip in Sevilla in midweek. It's happened more than once this season, and unfortunately for Jurgen Klopp and Co it was a familiar story come full time. Willian's goal had more than an element of fortune but there's no doubt the defence remains an area of concern if Liverpool want to reach the next level. At the other end, Salah continues to stand out as one of the signings of the season. He's right up there with Sadio Mane and Philippe Coutinho as Liverpool's main men. He'll have enjoyed scoring against his former club but both sides will be well aware that leaders Manchester City will be happiest with this result.
    MAN OF THE MATCH

    Mohamed Salah (Liverpool). In a hard-fought game of few clear-cut chances, Salah was impressive. The former Roma man had the home side's best effort of the first half and thought he was going to be the match winner until Willian intervened.

    PLAYER RATINGS

    Liverpool: Mignolet 7, Gomez 7, Matip 7, Klavan 7, Moreno 6, Henderson 6, Milner 6, Coutinho 7, Oxlade-Chamberlain 6, Salah 8, Sturridge 6. Subs: Wijnaldum 6, Mane n/a, Lallana n/a.

    Chelsea: Courtois 6; Azpilicueta 7, Christensen 7, Cahill 7, Zappacosta 7, Drinkwater 7, Kante 7, Bakayoko 6, Alonso 6; Hazard 7, Morata 7. Subs: Fabregas 7, Pedro 6, Willian 7.
    KEY MOMENTS

    21' - CHELSEA CHANCE. Hazard counters and cuts inside from the left after producing a wonderful piece of control. The Belgian wastes little time rasping in a low effort that Mignolet is forced to push past his right-hand post.

    41' - LIVERPOOL CHANCE! Salah spins beyond Cahill once again and curls a lovely effort just past the far post.

    60' - CHELSEA CHANCE. Hazard surges forward dangerously. It's played wide for Zappacosta, who flashes in a low cross from the right byline that Morata can't convert at the far post.

    63' - LIVERPOOL CHANCE! Salah turns on the edge of the box and feeds Sturridge to his left. The striker pulls the trigger but sees his goal-bound effort brilliantly blocked by Azpilicueta.

    65' - GOAL! Liverpool 1-0 Chelsea. Salah breaks the deadlock as he coolly slots home after the Ox had prodded a pass through following Coutinho's surging run.

    82' - CHELSEA CHANCE. Alonso arrives on cue to meet a right-wing cross, but he volleys woefully over the top.

    85' - GOAL! Liverpool 1-1 Chelsea. Willian drifts beyond one challenge into the right of the area and clips a cross towards the far post that completely bamboozles Mignolet and drops in at the far post.

    90+2' - LIVERPOOL CHANCE! Salah sees his drive from the edge of the box beaten away by Courtois after a nice nod down fell nicely for the Egyptian.

    KEY STATS

    Mohamed Salah has scored 10 goals in his first 13 Premier League apps for Liverpool, the joint-most by any Liverpool player in their first 13 apps in the competition (level with Daniel Sturridge).
    Mohamed Salah is the first player to score 15 goals in a season for Liverpool since Luis Suarez (31) & Daniel Sturridge (24) in 2013-14.
    Willian scored just 144 seconds after coming on as a substitute - the fastest in the Premier League this season.

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