Can Chelsea compete for a top-four finish without Eden Hazard?
Background photo: neajjean CC BY-SA 2.0
Watching beloved footballers create history at their club before leaving and swapping their current surroundings for pastures new is a difficult experience for fans. Chelsea supporters would have felt bitterly disappointed when Eden Hazard finally decided to call time on his spell at Stamford Bridge...
The Belgian's name was a constant in the transfer headlines during the past few years, with the Chelsea superstar continuously linked with a move to Real Madrid. A Los Blancos fan from a tender age, Hazard has always maintained his dream of wearing the white jersey at some point in his career. He now gets that opportunity.
Real Madrid summoned Hazard to bolster their attack following Cristiano Ronaldo's departure last summer, while understandably Chelsea was reluctant to let go of their best player, perhaps even moreso amid a transfer ban. Hence the 28-year-old was left with two options - to remain in his comfort zone 'in the garden of Eden' or to fulfil his dream of playing for his beloved Real Madrid.
In the end, Hazard decided it was better for him to depart from Stamford Bridge and move to the Santiago Bernabeu. After helping Chelsea to the Europa League title with two goals and one assist in the Baku showpiece, the superstar left-winger revealed his intention to move on from London and open up a new chapter in his trophy-laden career. Madrid acted swiftly and announced his €100million signing shortly after.
During his years at Stamford Bridge, Hazard was able to record 110 goals and 92 assists to his name; comfortably the most by any Chelsea player within the same time frame. He also helped the Blues claim two Premier League titles, two Europa League winners medals, one Carling Cup, one FA Cup and numerous accolades aplenty. During his time in the Premier League, Hazard was often regarded as the best player in the country. His dazzling skills, sparkling strikes and stupendous solo runs will be missed by football fans up and down the country.
Reality has hit Chelsea hard, but the club cannot afford to live in the past. Under Frank Lampard, a new-look Blues will be doing all they can to finish inside the top-four. The question is, can they achieve that without their talismanic Belgian?
Steps are already being taken, the Blues are wasting no time in implementing changes. Italian manager, Maurizio Sarri, who rallied the squad to Europa League triumph has been allowed to leave, with the aforementioned club legend and ex-Derby County manager Lampard replacing him at the helm. While that represents a huge statement, questions still remain over their chances of finishing within the Champions League spots in twelve months time.
To begin, it's important to recall that it's not Chelsea's culture to rely on the brilliance of an individual. During their brightest days, the team was built upon hard work and solid team spirit. The likes of John Terry, Didier Drogba, and Lampard were all equally as influential at the peak of their powers. While Hazard's era brought a somewhat new dimension, it shouldn't be difficult to return Chelsea to a style that worked for them at the start of the Roman Abramovich era, but their new manager will need time.
The 41-year-old knows Chelsea inside-out, while thanks to his hero status at Stamford Bridge, Lampard will command instant respect from everyone in and around the club. Having such power will allow the Englishman to lay out some ground rules and build upon the fountain of youth that is at his disposal. Chelsea will definitely be kicking hard last season should they fully back their man.
Ironically, Chelsea's transfer ban could actually do them a favour. Lampard worked wonders with youth during his short stint at Derby, and the likes of Callum Hudson-Odoi, Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham may finally get the opportunities their abilities deserve. Although they're unknown quantities as they've rarely played at this elite level, they're a talented bunch who could quickly build momentum should they hit the ground running.
Whether they'd manage to secure a top-four finish remains to be seen, the competition at the business end of the Premier League is pretty fierce, and the fact that they can't sign any players is a massive hindrance, but don't be surprised if Chelsea sneaks in there come May 2020...