In our first interview of 2016, the official Chelsea website catches up with Eden Hazard, who talks about making a difference, adaptability and looking forward…
The importance of versatility in the modern game cannot be underestimated, and there are few players in Europe right now capable of operating in as many positions as Eden Hazard.
In the absence of a recognised striker Hazard, more naturally a winger, started Monday’s game against Manchester United up front, the third occasion he has done so in the space of a month.
Just as he did in the draw away at Tottenham at the end of November, the Belgian produced a commendable performance at Old Trafford as he attempted to link the play, bring his team-mates into the game and offer a goalscoring threat.
The Belgian was at his creative best in the second half when he put Pedro through on goal with a marvellous piece of play, only for the Spaniard to be thwarted by a good David De Gea save.
As he sits down with the club’s official website at Cobham, the 24-year-old reflects on his display.
‘It was good,’ says Hazard. ‘I just want to be on the pitch, it doesn’t matter if I’m on the left, right, in the ‘number 10’ or as a striker. When we don’t have a striker I can help the team out. I just try to do my job and against United I think I did my job.
‘We were unlucky not to score a goal. The result could have been better but that’s football, a draw at Old Trafford is good. Now we play Crystal Palace and we want to start the second half of the season well, we need to start winning games.’
If the second half of the season goes well we can win two trophies.
Hazard has enjoyed huge success since moving to Stamford Bridge playing predominantly as a left winger, but there have also been occasions when he has been asked to play on the opposite flank or in a more central role just off the main striker, including memorably on his debut at Wigan in 2012 when he was instrumental in a 2-0 victory.
When given the task of leading the line in recent weeks he has met the challenge head on and, in terms of his responsibilities and objectives very little has changed, according to the player himself.
‘I prefer to play on the left wing but if I have to play up front, why not?’ he says. ‘It just means I need to come a bit deeper to get the ball at my feet but I enjoy it.
‘It’s the same, my job is always to try to make the difference. When I play as a striker it’s important for me to get into the box when crosses come in and try to get across to the front post.’
The year 2015 was a tale of two parts for the Blues, with the wonderfully successful first half preceding a far more disappointing, not to mention unexpected, second.
Having now gone three matches without defeat, the side will attempt to get 2016 off to the best possible start when we play our first game of the New Year at Crystal Palace tomorrow.
‘It’s a tough place to go, we won there last season but it’s always difficult,’ Hazard says. ‘It’s a London derby and it will be a good game for us to win.
‘We know they have good players; they defend very well and they can play on the counter attack and keep the ball well. We just need to be fully concentrated and hopefully we can win the game.
‘If I can score my first goal of the season it would be very good but obviously the most important thing for us is to win the game.’
One man who will not be lining up against us tomorrow is the suspended Yohan Cabaye, who played alongside Hazard at Lille. The Frenchman has been one of the Eagles’ most influential performers this campaign, which has come as no surprise to his former team-mate.
‘He’s a fantastic player; he can control the midfield on his own, he can take free-kicks and he’s a good passer of the ball,’ explains Hazard.
‘He can really make a difference. It’s unfortunate for them he’s not available but very good for us. It’s not just Cabaye, though, they have a lot of quality.’
Any match between the two teams is sure to bring back fond memories for Hazard after he scored the goal against Palace which secured the Premier League title last May. That fixture was one of 54 matches we played during 2015 in all competitions and Hazard, along with Willian, featured in all but three, the highest number within the squad.
Despite the fact we find ourselves in unfamiliar territory with regards to the Premier League table, there is still a lot to play for between now and the end of the season.
Our FA Cup campaign begins next week when we welcome Scunthorpe United to Stamford Bridge, while in February the Blues will lock horns with Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League for the third consecutive year.
‘We are in a good way right now, we just need to start winning more games to bring the confidence back and create more positivity,’ Hazard explains.
‘If the second half of the season goes well we can win two trophies so we just want to take it game by game, we don’t want to look too far into the future. It’s just about winning as many matches as possible.’