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Eden Hazard

Premier League Player of the Month, September 2018

Eden Hazard was named Premier League Player of the Month for September. Perhaps surprisingly, it is only the second time the Belgium captain has won the award, and comes almost two years after his first receipt in October 2016. He is the first Belgian to pick up a second such accolade, although four of his countrymen have a single award to their name: Romelu Lukaku, Christian Benteke, Jan Vertonghen and Marouane Fellaini.

The Chelsea forward beat the likes of Raheem Sterling, Alexandre Lacazette, James Maddison and Gylfi Sigurdsson to pick up the award, but few could argue. In four Premier League appearances, Hazard grabbed an impressive five goals – three of which came in a 4-1 destruction of Cardiff City. The visit to West Ham represented Hazard’s only blank of the month, as in total his goals earned Chelsea three extra points on their own.

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As new head coach Maurizio Sarri has converted his team into his preferred 4-3-3 formation, Hazard has mostly taken up his traditional role on the left side of the attacking front line (above). His ability to receive and protect the ball in tight spaces is of the highest order, and his change of speed to explode away from pressure has been key to his recent goal-scoring return. From his five goals in September, three involved a one-two passing combination, as Hazard always looks to sprint forward after making a pass. The remaining two goals included one penalty and a deflected effort that still involved quick combinations through a heavily guarded penalty area.

Chelsea fans will be hopeful that Hazard can continue his fine form in front of goal after the international break, as they host former manager Jose Mourinho and Manchester United in their first fixture back. Real Madrid, with whom the 27-year-old has been strongly linked in recent weeks, will no doubt be watching his progress closely.

Key strengths
Hazard’s first great strength is his world-class ability to receive a pass with defensive pressure behind him. As defenders are so concerned with stopping him from turning, they will often aggressively press him as the incoming pass travels towards his feet. From here, Hazard has two main tricks up his sleeve.

The first involves a flick to his left, and then spinning off with a run in behind his marker, to the right side. This enables a fast and direct progression of the ball, and the defender is often left wondering whether to block off the return pass for Hazard’s run in behind, or to track him and let a teammate deal with the ball. This confusion often results in successful one-two moves for Chelsea, coupled with a slicing return pass from the likes of Jorginho or Mateo Kovacic – as seen above in the passage of play that led to Hazard scoring against Liverpool.

Hazard’s second move when a defender aggressively presses from behind involves turning to beat the man himself. Similar to Alexis Sanchez of Manchester United, Hazard will feint one way after controlling the pass, and then – usually within one or two touches – turn towards the other side as the defender shifts, crucially altering his balance, on to the wrong leg. As with the first combination, Hazard can go on both sides – but left to right still remains his go-to, especially when up against a top defender.

Beyond his ability to beat defenders, Hazard’s disguise on the ball and changes of speed are wonderful assets to his devastating attacking style. His low centre of gravity helps him evade multiple defenders, and his calmness in front of goal stands out even at the very top level. From his 10 Premier League shots in September, Hazard hit eight of them on target. He often finds the bottom corners from the tightest of angles, as seen in the below strike against Cardiff.

Tactical analysis
A key factor in Hazard’s success from the Chelsea left is his relationship with left-back Marcos Alonso and the left-sided central midfielder – usually one of Mateo Kovacic or Ross Barkley. In order to get Hazard inside from the left channel, Alonso will push forward form left-back, providing attacking width and aiming crosses for Chelsea’s aerially effective lone striker. From here, Hazard can then move infield and attack within the inside channel, driving at the space between the opposition full-back and centre-back.

In addition to his relationship with Alonso, wide movements from Kovacic or Barkley enable Hazard to move even further infield, often attacking from the central lane or even the right side. The triangular rotation on the left (above) ensures Chelsea have stability and cover to block opposing counter-attacks in these spaces. This structure also ensures full attacking width, should they need to play around the sides of the opposing back line. From here, they can move Hazard into the most dangerous areas of the pitch without sacrificing their stability in moments of transition.

It is within the inside channel that Hazard is most effective; his low drives across goal are clinical, and from this position he also has the option to combine with the lone striker deployed in Sarri’s 4-3-3. His link-up play with Olivier Giroud, reportedly his preferred starter in that role, is particularly strong; the French striker is superb at holding and protecting the ball, giving Hazard precious extra seconds to find a yard more space as he looks to receive from a one-two.

Chelsea also have the option of using more direct passes into Giroud, as Hazard can move and feed off any knockdowns by the powerful World Cup winner (above). This is especially useful against compact defences, where space is especially tight and Hazard is prevented from producing his scintillating dribbles.

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