It is quite normal for a Premier League coach to struggle in his first season. It is physically the most challenging league in the world and it has been a long time since ordinary teams of England have understood the value of collective action. But if there is one thing that is more challenging for a coach than the Premier League, it is a star player that refuses to play as he or she should. Almost all coaches that worked with Eden Hazard at Chelsea - Benitez, Mourinho and Conte - had problems with him, and now Maurizio Sarri complains that Hazard does not lead the team and is being selfish. "He has to do more because the potential is higher than the performances," said Sarri after their victory against Tottenham in the Carabao Cup.
It is a well-known issue with Hazard; he is straightforward with his ideas about football and he immediately protests any type of coaching decision that he disapproves. He was critical of Mourinho and Conte's defensive approach to football and he kept evading the defensive roles given to him by these two coaches. In addition to that, given Hazard's prominent role in the club, both of these coaches lost their authority over the team after disputes with him. Thus, it is crucial for any Chelsea coach to keep Hazard under control.
This time, the issue is that Sarri wants Hazard to play like Napoli's Marek Hamsik, as the final playmaker of the team. While Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic make sure that the ball arrives at the final third of the pitch, Hazard is expected to deliver assists to strikers. At least, this is what Sarri has in his mind and this is how he used Hamsik in Napoli. We all know how good Napoli was this way, combined with their great set-pieces for dead-balls. Nevertheless, if you take Hamsik out of Napoli's game, the whole plan collapses and that is happening to Chelsea right now.
The last Tottenham game is not a good example to assess Hazard and Chelsea, since their opponent did not have a proper attacking line, due to the absence of Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Son Heung-min. The true test, as with the rest of the Premier League games, was the Arsenal game, where Chelsea was thoroughly dominated. Although it was apparent that Chelsea had problems with its game, it struck me for the first this time that the club also had serious motivational issues. Sarri later pointed out that "it is very hard to motivate big players." I think he had Hazard in mind.
The current shape of the team resembles the last stages in both Mourinho and Conte eras in Chelsea. In both cases, Hazard's protest earned the fans' sympathy since both coaches preferred defensive football, while the squad followed their leader. But this time he is out of excuses, he is basically refusing to give up any bit of freedom and authority he has on his game. If that is the case, it means that Hazard basically prevents Chelsea from having a well-built game, which is a must when you are competing against teams like Manchester City and Liverpool. At this point, despite his great talent, Chelsea executives need to see that Hazard has become hazardous for Chelsea, and should force him to change his behavior or maybe allow him to join Real Madrid.
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