Beginning with the World Cup and carrying into the first month and a half of the new club season, it’s hard to argue against Eden Hazard’s standing as the most influential attacker in football (and the most fun to watch). After scooping the Silver Ball in Russia while providing three goals and two assists — to go along with that miraculous 10-dribble game against Brazil — the Belgian winger has picked up right where he left off for Chelsea, recording six goals and two assists in seven Premier League appearances while also scoring that gobsmacking goal against Liverpool in the League Cup.
— People's club (@eve1878zam) September 26, 2018
The winger’s form has been heralded by all who’ve enjoyed front row seats: “He’s one of the best players in the world and he shows it,” said teammate Ross Barkley. “He’s been showing it for the last five or six years and he is establishing himself in the top three players in the world. At the minute, he’s probably the best player in the world, the way he is playing.”
And it’s the arrival of goals — manager Maurizio Sarri believes he can score 40 goals this season by expending less energy further away from goal and focusing on his contributions in the final third, much like the current styles of Messi and Ronaldo — that’s seen the 27-year-old firmly join the conversation.
It’s an easy notion to scoff at since no one on the planet can come close to matching the goalscoring consistency of the Barcelona and Juventus legends. The one criticism of Hazard has been just that — after inspiring Chelsea to the 2014-15 EPL title with 14 goals and nine assists, his totals the following season dipped to just four goals and three assists.
You could argue that the same thing happened again (although on a less dramatic scale) when Chelsea again won the title in 2016-17 with Hazard scoring 16 goals to go with five assists. Last year, the numbers dipped to 12 and four, respectively.
And while Hazard maintains that he’d rather do anything to help his team win trophies, even if that means sacrificing goals for other contributions, the implementation of "Sarriball" at Stamford Bridge — winning the ball further up the pitch with a high press and an extremely vertical playing style starting with the ball-playing qualities of the center backs and moving forward with Jorginho — seems to have unlocked Hazard in a Dries Mertens-esque way (although Hazard obviously isn’t being deployed as the side’s striker...yet).
Eden Hazard's shots on target in the Premier League this season:
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) October 1, 2018
After being eased back into things following his summer exertions (although he still managed to register two assists in brief cameos against Huddersfield and Arsenal), Hazard returned to the starting eleven against Newcastle back on August 26 and left St. James’ Park in ruins.
— Football Comps (@FtbllComps) August 27, 2018
From there, he went the full 90 against Bournemouth while scoring another goal, completing five dribbles and adding five key passes in a near-perfect game.
Eden Hazard vs Bournemouth (H) | A 10/10 performance. pic.twitter.com/QKAyfGnF8K— َ (@HazardEdition) June 26, 2017
After scoring for Belgium against Scotland and Iceland over September’s international break, Hazard actually did complete the perfect game against Cardiff — scoring a hat-trick while taking 97 touches and completing four dribbles.
That was followed by his only listless performance of the season so far — a 0-0 draw with West Ham at London Stadium.
But that, of course, has been followed by the back-to-back performances against Liverpool. We all know about the League Cup goal, but Hazard was again brilliant on Saturday, scoring Chelsea’s lone goal and coming close to adding an assist with three key passes.
If you were pressed into picking only one player to watch at the weekend, the vast majority of football fans would still invariably select Messi, and with good reason — he’s off to another incredible start to the season with five goals and four assists in seven LaLiga appearances (to go along with the hat-trick he scored against PSV in the UCL).
But there’s no denying that you would’ve missed something spectacular in Hazard after perusing the highlights above. He’s a footballer that you simply can’t afford to miss at the moment.