Conte must build his Chelsea team around this Blues star

Chelsea’s 2015/16 collapse has been covered extensively, it has been written about more than the moon landings in 1969, it seems. Eden Hazard’s appalling drop in form was certainly integral to that and, whilst the Belgian looks to have improved, we are none the wiser as to why Hazard’s form dropped off a cliff so dramatically. Antonio Conte may already know the answer, or he needs to know the answer, but the Italian simply must build around the superstar Belgian.

One poor season does not change a player’s overall ability – Conte will know this – and the Italian boss should remember, ‘form is temporary, but class is permanent’. Hazard’s failings this season have been alarming for Chelsea fans around the world, with a loss of confidence, athleticism and commitment in one tumultuous campaign having seen a sharp fall from grace. However, Conte should look beyond 2015/16 and use Hazard as the lynchpin of his attack.

Since the transfer battle to sign Hazard, he has been integral to Chelsea’s play, and one of the superstars of European football. His dancing feet, low centre of gravity and ability to switch the ball onto either foot have had fans leaping off their seats each time he has the ball have seen comparisons made to one of the game’s greatest ever players, Lionel Messi. The talk of Chelsea selling a player with such a magnificent reputation across Europe, who won the 2014/15 PFA Player of the Year award, is absurd. If you were an incoming Chelsea manager, would you be thinking of anything other than starting him?

Conte should be thinking of the Belgian as his main star and initial building block in his attacking line-up. In 2014/15 Hazard was one of the best players in world football, as he dominated the statistics for dribbles completed and chances created. He was a playmaker, a goal scorer and a dribbler that could draw a free-kick at will, and Conte must see him as a crucial cog next season. Whether Conte uses his Juventus 3-5-2 or his preferred 4-2-4, Hazard should be found a space to play in. Either of these systems may see him move centrally, perhaps to play in a completely free role off of the striker. Hazard can revel in the space created by Diego Costa’s antics on the front line, whilst playing in a more advanced role will weaken the defensive shackles that were believed to have damaged his attacking flair in the latter days of Jose Mourinho.

Willian, Pedro and Oscar are all superb footballers with their own strengths, but none of these three possess the same star quality as Hazard. Pedro will finish and move like a forward, Oscar is a tireless worker who can contribute up and down the field, whilst Willian has developed a greater eye for a final ball, but none should take preference over Hazard.

If 2015/16 was an anomaly, 2016/17 should see Hazard return to his world-beating best. The last few weeks have shown us how good the Belgian still is, and we may be coming to the end of his blip. Hazard’s critics have cited his shortage of goals and missing of big chances for keeping him from the very top echelon of footballers, but Conte’s approach may allow Hazard to take that final leap to superstardom.

The ex-Juve boss, assuming he does not sell Hazard, has no choice other than to make him his main man. Hazard is Chelsea’s best player and, when on top form, he is one of the best in the world. The second half of 2014/15 showed that Hazard can produce the goals – he was given more freedom whilst Costa was struggling, and it paid dividends.

Hazard is no different to the player from 2014/15. The Belgian is perhaps a quarter of a yard slower, but he will certainly be wiser. His composure in front of goal still needs work, but Conte, unless he is planning on signing Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, must build around their marque 2012 signing.



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