Hazard's star turn at Sunderland is just the beginning

Posted by Phil Lythell

Ian T Horrocks/Getty ImagesEden Hazard has six goals and six assists thus far on the season for Chelsea.

No season for Chelsea is ever free from heated debate or controversy and the 2013-14 campaign is proving to be no different.

In recent history, the club have been plagued by such contentious issues as allegations of racism or the appointment of a hated figure as the manager of the club, yet this year the argument has focused on the markedly less divisive, yet equally discussed situation of Juan Mata. The regular omission of the Stamford Bridge favourite has prompted some to question Jose Mourinho's hitherto impeccable status in the minds of Chelsea supporters. On the other side of the fence have been those delighted to see Oscar assume a more prominent role in the side and flourish as a result.

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Yet amid all the wailing and gnashing of teeth over whether the Spaniard or Brazilian retains the greater merit, quietly and efficiently going about his business has been a certain Belgian.

Eden Hazard stands as Chelsea's top scorer in the Premier League with six strikes and just as many assists which means that he has been directly involved in 43 percent of his team's goals this season. There is also all the work that cannot be as easily quantified such as the tireless running of the flanks, the ball retention in tight areas to relieve pressure and the dragging of markers out of position to allow others to shine.

Even so, Hazard has, to many neutral observers, enjoyed only an average season so far. An observation that is as enlightening as it is ignorant. All the examples above would seem to expose any accusations of mediocrity while pointing to the assumption that the 22-year-old is actually enjoying a particularly rich vein of form. Yet that would not be quite right either.

The vast amount of potential in his boots is so apparent to all who have ever seen him play that it seems like he should be tearing defences apart and netting hat-tricks on a daily basis. The fact that this has yet to transpire has allowed a certain amount of apathy to set in regarding his deeds, even though those Herculean demands have always been out of the reach of mere mortals until the recent mindboggling feats of Messrs Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

It is true that Hazard has not fulfilled his full potential, but his importance to Chelsea is beyond doubt while the fact that nobody ever mentions the exorbitant transfer fee that was paid to bring him to West London -- unlike references to Fernando Torres -- illustrates that he cannot be doing too badly. He is the first name on the team sheet and is almost never rested by Mourinho due to his peerless ability to turn a game with a moment of magic.

The midweek performance against Sunderland in which the five-foot seven-incher stood head and shoulders above everyone else has sent a timely reminder to the rest of the footballing public about just how special he is. The reason his contribution at the Stadium of Light was so eye-catching was not because of his array of mazy, weaving runs – a part of his game that he showcases on a regular basis. No, what was especially pleasing was the end product; that he turned his exemplary approach work into goals. As the statistics mentioned earlier highlight, Hazard is a crucial component of the Blues' attacking play, but there has remained a desire for him to be more ruthless, even selfish, in an effort to extract every last drop of his talent.

On Wednesday night he did just that. Hazard might have begun by clipping a perfectly weighted cross for Frank Lampard to nod home but from then on he exhibited greed, a trait that seems to suit him perfectly. His first goal was a masterclass of using another teammate to his advantage by not actually using him, with Cesar Azpilicueta's decoy run opening up the space for him to rifle home from the edge of the penalty area. His second was the product of facing a defence that had doubled up on the Belgian only for Hazard to find a route through with Lampard's help before having the drive and focus to slalom across the face of goal before bursting the net. Hazard's endeavour should also have seen Torres get on the scoresheet, but unfortunately the striker could not find the target from six yards out after latching onto his teammate's rebounded shot.

The question now is whether Hazard can deliver these type of dominant performances on a regular basis. Often he is Chelsea's best player on the pitch and he is certainly the most naturally gifted of all those at the club, though he does not always stamp his authority on matches. Although knowing that he had a special player at his disposal, Mourinho laid down that specific challenge to him at the beginning of the season when he stated that trickery and aesthetics were all very well but it was goals and especially goals at crucial times against the best opponents that he expected from his forward. That has not quite happened yet but it is surely only a matter of time.

In the next two matches, Hazard will have Stoke City and Crystal Palace to help him hone his radar ahead of a top of the table clash with Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium. For all the plaudits heaped upon Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil so far this season, it could well be that it is the former Lille man that emerges from that match as the brightest star in London.

The time is right for the little man to deliver and there could be no better moment than in a title six-pointer against one of Chelsea's most hated rivals.

Follow Phil Lythell on Twitter @PhilLythell


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