After becoming only the second name in Chelsea history to win our Player of the Year award on three separate occasions, Eden Hazard spoke to the club’s official website. As well as reflecting on a wonderful campaign, the Belgian paid tribute to Antonio Conte and explained how a tactical switch enabled him to produce his best football.
The 2016/17 campaign couldn’t have gone much better for Eden Hazard.
The brilliant Belgian fired home our first goal of the season in an opening-day win over West Ham United and never looked back, with his class, consistency and ability to affect the biggest matches playing a significant part in ensuring we were crowned Premier League champions.
Over the course of the season Hazard scored against both Manchester clubs, as well as Arsenal and Tottenham, and so impressive was his form he was named in the PFA Team of the Season for the fourth time in five years, as well as finishing runner-up to Blues team-mate N’Golo Kante in the voting for the PFA and FWA Player of the Year awards.
As well as joining Frank Lampard as the only man to win the club’s Player of the Year prize three times, he also picked up the Chelsea Goal of the Season award for the second year in succession for his stunning individual effort against the Gunners.
‘Very good,’ Hazard responds, when asked to assess his season as a whole. ‘It was obviously very important for us to bounce back and become champions again after the disappointment of the previous year.
‘I finished the previous season strongly and then had a good European Championships with Belgium, which meant I was able to start well. I stayed at the top level this season in almost every game so I’m happy with my own form, but our success was down to all of the players. Everybody has been fantastic. We’ve all been consistent and that’s the reason we’ve done so well.’
Our preparations for the season started at Cobham, before continuing in Austria and the US, with the players undergoing a tough physical programme. Hazard believes the benefits of those difficult training sessions became apparent when the league campaign began.
‘At the beginning it really helped that we’d worked so hard during pre-season,’ he says. ‘We did a lot of running, a lot of gym sessions and we were ready.
‘You could see that in the results because we won the first three matches and even though we lost against Arsenal and Liverpool we quickly started winning again.
‘At the end we were maybe a little bit tired but confidence was high so we were still able to win the games. Working so hard during pre-season was the key for us.’
In the wake of his team securing the title, Antonio Conte said the turning point in our season came when he switched to a 3-4-3 formation after we found ourselves 3-0 down at half-time against Arsenal in September, and Hazard explains why he benefited from the tactical change on a personal level.
‘I started to play a bit more centrally, like a Number.10,’ he says. ‘Alonso was close to me so he was able to help when we didn’t have the ball, just like Kante, Matic and Fabregas. The new system helped us because we have the players who suit the formation.
‘The manager said to me I have to try to find Diego Costa. When I play I always try to pass to him, or look for him to make a run which opens up the space for me to come inside. I always try to be close to him because I know it makes it difficult for defenders when there is two of you, or even three when Pedro or Willian are there as well.
‘When we remain static it makes it easier for them to mark us, so I tried to stay close to him and play one-touch football, which worked well.’
Throughout October and November, shortly after the change in formation, Hazard scored five goals, including a brace in a wonderful 5-0 win over Everton, arguably our best performance of the season.
He ended the campaign with 17 strikes to his name, his best return since moving to Stamford Bridge in 2012.
‘To be honest, it’s not my objective to score a specific amount of goals, I just want to win games,’ says the 26-year-old.
‘For me it’s better to win every game in the season and not score, that’s not a problem. I know if I score I can help the team win games and in the new system I’ve been closer to Diego, and closer to the goal, so it’s been easier for me to penetrate, make assists and score goals.’
Hazard has enjoyed his first season working under the guidance of Conte and he praised the Italian for his impact on the side.
‘When you win it’s always enjoyable, even if you have to work hard,’ he says. ‘We did well. When we train we are focused and when we play we are focused. We know what to do, it’s been a fantastic year for him because it’s his first season in England.’
After a one-year absence, Stamford Bridge will play host to Champions League football once again next season, and Hazard is confident we can challenge the best teams in Europe given the manner in which we secured our sixth top-flight title.
‘The Champions League is a very difficult competition with many good teams who are capable of reaching the semi-finals and the final,’ he explains.
‘You never know, but if we continue with the way we’ve been playing this season we can go far. Maybe with a couple of new players to take the level even higher we can do well, but it’s not just about quality, you also need a bit of luck.’
Tomorrow marks exactly five years to the day since Hazard moved to Stamford Bridge from French club Lille. It’s been a hugely successful period in which he has won two Premier League titles, one League Cup and a string of individual accolades.
Now one of the longest-serving and most experienced members of the squad, Hazard continues to enjoy life as a Chelsea player.
‘I’ve spent five years here, I know everything about the club,’ he says. ‘Even if I’m still only 26 I have a lot of experience now. I started playing at 16 in France so I’ve been professional for 10 years.
‘I like it here because it’s a family club. I have a lot of friends and we all talk to each other. In terms of games and experience I’m one of the oldest players and that’s good.
‘This is my second home and I’m happy at Chelsea. I just want to keep going, maintain this intensity and continue to win trophies.’
You will be able to read more from Hazard on this website tomorrow as he picks out some of his highlights from the season, including his favourite goals.