Why Eden Hazard is a winger and not a false 9
Back in 2012, a trio of English football teams: Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea were locked in a battle to sign a 21-year-old wonder kid who was turning heads in the French Ligue 1 with Lille. He eventually signed for Chelsea in a £32m deal that has now turned out to be a bargain. He moved to Stamford Bridge as he felt that The Blues were the most keen to sign him and his impact at the club has been nothing short of spectacular.
Six years on, he has become one of the best players in world football, and summer after summer is the subject of speculation from a host of top clubs in world football. This day last week, he was deployed as a false 9 by Antonio Conte in the 1-1 draw at home to Barcelona, but he was overshadowed by his club teammate, Willian.
Antonio Conte, the Italian manager has tried experiment of playing him in a fluid front-three comprising of Pedro and Willian, but he is better suited on the wings, running rings at the opposition defenders and trying to commit men to mark him, thereby leaving the others free. At Lille, he was deployed as part of front three with Moussa Sow and Gervinho.
Speaking after the game against Barcelona he said, Eden Hazard on his position: “To be honest, I DO like to play as a false ‘9’. But if I had to choose, I would prefer to play like I did in the last 10 minutes. On the wing I feel more comfortable. That’s my position.”
They won the Ligue 1 ahead of more fancied teams playing a brand of brilliant counter-attacking football under Rudi Garcia with Hazard the centrepiece of everything they did right. He arrived at Chelsea after the Champions League, when a number of older players were slowly eased out to help form a new generation of players that could lead the club to a new glorious era.
It was expected to be his Real Madrid audition, as the Spanish outfit are reportedly keen on making a move for the 27 year old international. He spoke of his preference to play on the wing, especially referring to the last 10 minutes when Alvaro Morata was brought on.
Antonio Conte wants Hazard to be upfront, which would leave space for Willian to use his space while also using Pedro as an extra midfielder that will help the defence. Hazard is a player that likes to drift infield and bring others to play. All the best moments Hazard has had in a Chelsea shirt have come in a left attacking midfield role, and he should remain there.
Limiting him in a central role will lead to discontent between him and his manager. Last season, Conte employed a 3-4-3 formation that had Matic and Kante in the middle of the park, and Hazard and either one of Willian and Pedro play alongside Diego Costa. Matic allowed balance in the midfield but with the Serbian gone, Bakayoko has failed to match expectations.
That has allowed Conte to add an extra midfielder which has meant that the likes of Willian and Pedro have been used lesser than last season. He has used 3-5-2 with Hazard playing behind the striker. Eden Hazard is a player that must have all the right conditions to play well, and that is not as a false 9.