Hazard solving slump mystery key to Chelsea recovering form
LONDON: If one player epitomizes Chelsea’s slump it’s surely Eden Hazard. The playmaker was feted as the Premier League’s finest talent as last season ended with Chelsea winning the title and England’s top two individual awards were presented to the 24-yearold Belgian.
As Chelsea has struggled since August starting its title defense by collecting 14 points from a possible 39 and sitting second in Champions League Group G - so has Hazard.”I didn’t start the season well. I tried to find out why, but I don’t know,” Hazard said ahead of Tuesday’s match at Maccabi Tel Aviv.
“Sometimes you don’t know. You have to keep going. I gave everything in training, on the pitch when I played. I hope I can get a lot of form and try to help the team win games.”
Chelsea, which can qualify for the knockout phase with victory in Israel if leader Porto beats Dynamo Kiev, ended a run of three league losses on Saturday by beating Norwich 1-0.Hazard thrived in a central role playing behind Diego Costa rather than being on the left flank the result of a conversation with under-pressure manager Jose Mourinho. “I said to him, ‘Maybe we have to try to change something. If I can play number 10?” Hazard recalled.
At a time when Chelsea is struggling to score, Hazard’s only goals this season have come while on international duty with four for Belgium. Hazard accrued 19 goals for Chelsea in winning the player of the year awards for 2014-15. Far from that being a launch-pad to try to challenge Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo for elite global status, Hazard’s career has stalled.
Mourinho isn’t being blamed for his or Chelsea’s loss in form. “I don’t have a problem with him,” Hazard said. “He is the best manager. He is the best manager for Chelsea and we hope we can win a lot of trophies together. Maybe not this season because it will be difficult, but next season and on.” Here are some other talking points ahead of Tuesday’s games in Group G:
Top of the Israeli league but bottom in Europe, the Tel Aviv side can still qualify for the Europa League by finishing third in Group G - just. But it is yet to collect a single point and sits five behind Dynamo Kiev with two games remaining. Domestically, Maccabi is thriving at least: winning six of its last seven league games.
BUENO PUSHES FOR A PLACE
With Porto winning eight in nine in the league, Alberto Bueno is being kept out of the team. The Spanish striker arrived at the Portuguese club in the summer transfer window from Rayo Vallecano, where he excelled with 17 goals last season. But Porto’s solid run and the top form of Vincent Aboubakar and Yacime Brahimi in Porto’s attack has shut Bueno out of the main competitions so far.
Only when coach Julen Lopetegui made six changes to his usual team for the Portuguese Cup game against lowly Angrense did Bueno open his account for Porto: scoring both goals in a 2-0 win.
“FC Porto has a great team and we have to wait for our chance,” the 27-year-old Bueno said. “I’m happy but I want to play more.” He’ll be hoping that comes against Dynamo Kiev when a place in the round of 16 can be secured by Porto, which leads Chelsea by three points. — AP
PORTO: Porto’s Algerian midfielder Yacine Brahimi (L) and Porto’s French defender Aly Cissokho (R) take part in a training session at the Dragao stadium in Porto yesterday, on the eve of the UEFA Champions League football match FC Porto vs Dynamo Kiev. — AFP
HAIFA: Chelsea’s soccer team players run during a training session ahead of Group G Champions League soccer match in Haifa, Israel, yesterday. Chelsea will play against Maccabi Tel Aviv today. — AP