“When you leave the pitch and have the impression that you’ve run but haven’t played a game of football, it’s a pity,” the Belgian said. “We could have played on for three hours and I wouldn’t touch the ball.”
Hazard was used as a false nine at the Etihad, a position he’s been drafted into on several occasions this season, usually in big games. It’s not one the Belgium international enjoys – he’s admitted as much – and it’s one that has left him questioning his future at Stamford Bridge.
The 27-year-old has stalled on signing a new £300,000-a-week deal. Hazard, according to reports, is unhappy with how Chelsea approach high-profile games. He wants the Blues to go toe-to-toe with the elite instead of playing with an inferiority complex; only that way can he win the Ballon d’Or.
Chelsea are, understandably, wary of losing Hazard, who remains a Real Madrid transfer target.
They want to keep their star man happy, hence the contract offer on the table, which would make him the best paid player in the club’s history.
But does Hazard deserve such a mega-deal? We’ve looked into his performances against the Premier League’s best to analyse if he is a big-game difference maker that deserves such a bumper deal.
Chelsea’s Eden Project
Winning the European Cup in 2012 was the greatest night in Chelsea’s history, but it also had a big impact on the club’s future. Were it not for that penalty shoot-out victory in Munich then the Blues would never have landed Hazard.
To a large extent Chelsea have kept their word. In his almost six years as a Chelsea player Hazard has blossomed into one of the world’s best while winning the Premier League twice, the Europa League and League Cup. There’s also been an FA Cup final appearance.
He has played 287 games for the Blues in which he has been involved in a Chelsea goal every 136 minutes. It’s an impressive return given he’s largely played under defensive-minded managers in José Mourinho and now Antonio Conte.
Of the 87 goals Hazard has struck for Chelsea in all competitions, an impressive 22 have come against the other five clubs that make up the Premier League’s ‘big six’.
It’s an impressive return given the quality of opposition and means just over a quarter of the goals Hazard has scored for the Blues have come against their biggest domestic rivals.
As shown in the above graphic, Hazard has enjoyed the most success against Tottenham. In 12 matches in all competitions against Spurs the Chelsea No.10 has struck five goals, one of which ended the north London club’s title hopes, and three assists.
Hazard has too been influential in his 12 and 14 competitive games against Man City and Liverpool respectively, while his contribution in 15 matches against Manchester United and Arsenal has also been important for the Blues.
It’s proof that Hazard can be the man for the big occasion if given the opportunity, which he wasn’t against Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City at the weekend.
He’s No Flat Track Bully
While there is no doubting his talent the one criticism of Hazard is his consistency, during seasons and in matches.
When on form Hazard can be mesmerising. He can drift past an opposition defender with an elegance few players possess and can execute passes few even see.
But often against weaker sides, the Belgium international can drift through games and halves – he doesn’t have the ruthless goalscoring mindset of a Cristiano Ronaldo or even Mo Salah, who has netted more than 30 times since moving to Liverpool.
In 54 Premier League games against the rest of the clubs that make up the top six, Hazard averages 0.28 goals per game. Against the rest of the top flight, meanwhile, his goals per game average increases, which isn’t a huge surprise, to 0.36.
But how does that compare to the Premier League’s other standout wingers?
As the graphic above shows, Sadio Mané is the stand-out performer when it comes to clashes against other sides in the top six. The Senegalese forward’s combination of raw pace, intelligent movement and constantly improving technique makes him difficult to contain.
Hazard’s 15 goals is a fair return while Alexis Sanchez and Dele Alli haven’t struck consistently against the division’s best.
But it is a very different story when that pair, and particularly the now Manchester United star, take on the rest of the sides in the Premier League.
Sanchez is a flat-track bully and scores 0.57 goals per game against teams outside of the top six, more than double he manages against those in it. Alli is also far more of a goalscoring threat against the ‘weaker’ sides in the top flight.
Mané is consistent across the board while there is an increase in Hazard’s numbers, which would be expected despite the fact he plays in the most defensive side in the top six.
However, there is certainly scope for Hazard – and Mane and Alli – to improve against the Premier League’s lesser sides. They could all achieve numbers that Sánchez posts, but let’s focus on the Chelsea man.
He certainly has the talent required to harm weaker sides, so it is perhaps down to his mentality. Hazard doesn’t have the same single-minded approach as Sánchez; he isn’t solely driven by individual accolades and Chelsea benefit from that.
But there is little doubt Hazard could do more to punish sides. If he scores one, he should be desperate for a second, and then a third. He needs to be more relentless in his pursuit of goals.
There is only one answer to this question: of course. Hazard’s influence against the Premier League’s best sides mean he is a player Chelsea should do everything to keep hold of.
There is also, as discussed above, room for the Belgian to improve, although it appears the only man who can drive Hazard to become the best he can possibly be is the player himself.
He may not enjoy being used as a false nine, or playing in Conte’s tactical structure, but that should resolve itself in the summer with the Italian expected to leave Chelsea.
Whoever comes in will have to convince Hazard his future lies at Stamford Bridge, but that may become harder if the Blues fail to qualify for the Champions League.
In that instance Hazard could rightly demand in excess of £300,000-a-week. It’s why the Blues must do everything they can do tie Hazard down to a new deal before the season comes to an end.