WORDS WITH: EDEN HAZARD
Currently enjoying his most impressive run of form since moving to Stamford Bridge, Eden Hazard sat down with the official Chelsea website to look back on the season thus far, while also outlining his aspirations for the remainder of the campaign…
A change in employment, in any walk of life, is often a difficult time, but in the world of football, the pressure has the potential to increase dramatically depending on circumstances.
In the case of Eden Hazard, one of the most highly coveted players in Europe last summer, his move from Lille, in the French top flight, to the European champions understandably captured the headlines.
Such a high-profile transfer inevitably comes with its own demands, but for a player who was only 21 years old at the time he made the transition, it's not only on the field of play where adjustments are required.
Changes in country, culture and, perhaps most significantly, language, all need to be overcome in order to maximise performance levels. But if timing is everything, based on recent form Hazard appears to be clicking into gear at the perfect moment.
Having scored a crucial last-minute goal in the Europa League game against Sparta Prague last month, the Belgian came off the bench to inspire a remarkable comeback against Manchester United in the FA Cup, bringing us back into the game with a stunning strike.
Another starring role against Steaua Bucharest followed, before he produced an eye-catching display against West Ham United last Sunday.
'My confidence is really up at the moment and I feel good in myself,' Hazard tells the official Chelsea website. 'It's quite weird because, historically, March always seems to be the best time of the year for me.
'Last year I got player of the month in Ligue 1, and a couple of years ago I won the same award. I don't know why but it seems as though things come good for me at this time of the season.'
Having joined the club ahead of what has been the busiest campaign in our history, the skilful young attacker has barely had a minute to pause for thought.
Of our 53 matches this season, Hazard has played in 50 of them, a statistic which underlines his importance to the side, both under current boss Rafael Benitez and former manager Roberto Di Matteo.
The three matches he was forced to sit out came courtesy of a suspension acquired in the Capital One Cup semi-final against Swansea City, and the player himself admits his level of involvement has come as something of a surprise.
'Being honest, I didn't expect to be playing in every game, but aside from the three I missed through suspension, I have,' he says in a slightly surprised tone. 'Thank goodness I haven't been injured so far, and let's hope that continues so I can keep playing.
'I have been on the bench on a few occasions but, of course, it's been good for me. We know we have a strong group of players and a great team. The manager has other choices because in attack we have a number of players who can make a difference and decide games on their own.'
Recent performances suggest there is every chance the season could end on a positive note. With the Blues only one game away from a Wembley FA Cup semi-final, not to mention at the quarter-final stage of the Europa League, the opportunity to add to the two trophies secured last season remains.
On a personal level, Hazard is relatively satisfied with the way in which his first season in the Premier League has gone, but he acknowledges there have been disappointments, none more so than the manner in which we exited the Champions League.
'You have to reserve judgement until the end of the season. You can't summarise or sum up until everybody knows exactly what's been won,' explains Hazard.
'But it was a big disappointment going out of the Champions League so early, particularly as the same thing happened to me with Lille last season, when we were eliminated at the group stage.
'It's such an important competition and that's why I feel we could have achieved a bit more this season.
'We're on the right path to qualify for next season's tournament, though, and I think if we do we have enough quality players at the club to go a long way in it. The ultimate objective is to go as far as you can in the Champions League.'
Our preference for a 4-2-3-1 formation has seen Hazard operating as one of the supporting trio tucked in behind a lone striker, with his ability to play on either flank, as well as through the middle, making him a difficult player to contain for opposing defences.
The relationship and understanding which has developed between him and the likes of Juan Mata, Oscar and Victor Moses has, at times, been a joy to watch, and he believes having the luxury of working with such talented players can only aid his long-term development.
'It's great and it's a real pleasure to play alongside players of that calibre,' he explains.
'As a young, developing player myself, it's brilliant for me because you learn playing alongside these guys and you develop your own game in the process.
'In terms of players such as John Terry, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole, you're talking about some of the best players in the world. Even if you're not playing alongside them, just watching them in training or during a match is great in terms of what you can learn.
'Training alongside those players every day helps you learn all the time. They tell you what you need to know out on the pitch and they instil the qualities which are needed.'
With his compatriots Romelu Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne and Thibaut Courtois, as well as his younger brother, Thorgan, all currently out on loan, Hazard is, for now at least, the only Belgian at the club.
His home nation's influence in the Premier League, however, continues to grow, with the likes of Moussa Dembele, Marouane Fellaini, Jan Vertonghen and Vincent Kompany, to name only a few, all central to their respective clubs' prospects.
Hazard is pleased to have so many familiar faces plying their trade on these shores, and believes it benefits everybody.
'We have a crop of players who are all suddenly moving to England at the same time, and we are all roughly in the same age group,' he explains.
'It's good because we're creating a Belgian culture in the Premier League, and it's good for the players themselves to be playing over here. It's a two-way thing because the players benefit from the experience we get in England, but the Premier League also benefits from having us all here.'
Sunday's goal against West Ham was Hazard's 12th of the campaign, a hugely credible return for his debut season in the Premier League.
A number of those strikes will be remembered for their quality, particularly the ones against Stoke City and Sparta Prague, while the player himself is eager to remind us of a brilliantly-taken goal in the 8-0 win over Aston Villa back in December.
When asked to choose his favourite goal in a Chelsea shirt, though, his response comes as no surprise.
'There have been one or two nice ones, it's true, but the goal I scored against Manchester United at Old Trafford probably stands out most,' he reflects.
'It's always good to score at such a nice stadium and it was an important goal as well to get us back in the game.'
As we enter the business end of the season, the games will continue to come thick and fast, starting with four games in an eight-day period following the international break.
However, with two trophies still to play for, as well as our bid to secure Champions League football for next season, Hazard remains hopeful of ending what has been an intense campaign in positive fashion.
'It's been a good season for me so far but I could have done better in certain situations. There have been good moments and bad moments, both for me individually and the team, but hopefully we can finish the season strongly,' says Hazard.
'We're still on the right track to win both the FA Cup and Europa League, and we'll be doing everything in our power to make sure that happens because big clubs can only be judged to have had a successful season if they win one or, if they're lucky, several, trophies.'