Hazard reaches for the stars
LONDON — Eden Hazard wants to reclaim his position as one of the top five footballers on the planet after the woes of last season.
The Belgian is rejuvenated under Antonio Conte. Indeed, Hazard’s form is one of the key reasons behind Chelsea’s upturn in fortunes, his brace in the demolition of Everton taking his season’s tally to seven. He scored just six goals last season.
Now Hazard is back on track, the attacker has set his sights high. Former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho once said Hazard had the potential to compete with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo for the position as the world’s best player.
Hazard said: “I was not on the Ballon d’or list, last season I was not good, so for me it was normal that I was not on the list. But I want to come back on it and give everything, not to be in the top 23 but to be in the top five. I want to reach that level.
“I want to be the best. I try to reach this level. I am playing now like when I was a kid, and I am enjoying my football.
“I don’t know why last season was so bad, but I don’t try to find excuses.
“I was not at the top level for the first time since I started my career. I won a lot of trophies, individual as well. Last season I was maybe a little bit tired, mentally, physically. I don’t know, I cannot say it was because of this, or that.
“But you learn. You know in your career you cannot stay at the top all the time, you know you have ups and downs and this is part of the job.
“You don’t want to be the same as last season. You want to be better. You try to work in training, you try to bring the confidence back and enjoy the game on the pitch.”
Hazard owes much of his resurgence to Conte. Having been bogged down with his defensive responsibilities under Mourinho, particularly during the latter stages of his second spell in charge, Hazard now has a role he feels allows him to cause maximum havoc.
Conte’s switch to a 3-4-3 system has injected new life into the former Lille man. “He has not changed a lot, it is just that I have a little bit more freedom when we have the ball and without the ball,” explained Hazard.
“Because I don’t need to defend against the right back, because (Marcos) Alonso is there, I just focus on staying in my position. And when I have the ball I have more freedom and I can go where I want to go, and be decisive.”
Everton manager Ronald Koeman claimed Chelsea’s performance was the best he had seen from a team deploying three at the back.
He added: “They are hungry and will fight for the title, for sure. But I expected more from my team.”
Conte made the switch after the humiliating 3-0 loss against Arsenal, which the Italian admits had him worried. The tactical change has kick-started Chelsea’s campaign, Conte’s side winning five consecutive Premier League games and scoring 16 goals, with five clean sheets.
And Conte, who will head to Italy for a rest during the international break, explained: “I was worried (after the Arsenal game) because we conceded a lot of goals in every game and conceded many chances and for this reason we changed.
“Usually when you lose, it’s important to have a good idea and to change, improve and explain why you had this defeat. Why didn’t I start the season with 3-4-3? Because in my mind I wanted to play with a 4-2-4.
“I wanted to start this way because when you have strong wingers, I like to play with two strikers very close. But then I changed to find more balance.”