“I’D like to see Eden Hazard win the match for us … If he can’t win the match for us, at least to be a team man.”
Jose Mourinho didn’t beat about the bush when he was asked before Chelsea’s Champions League clash with Dynamo Kiev what he expected to see from Eden Hazard, after restoring the Belgian to his starting XI.
Mourinho had dropped last season’s Player of the Year for Chelsea’s 2-0 win over Aston Villa on Saturday, saying the winger must increase his defensive work rate. Back in blue for the tricky test in Ukraine, how would Hazard respond?
The early signs were positive. With five minutes on the clock, Hazard cut in from the left flank and attempted to thread a right-footed pass through to Diego Costa. That effort was cut out but four minutes later the Belgian nearly produced the perfect reminder to his manager of his value.
Hazard picked up a loose ball in the box, shifted it out of his feet and curled a shot towards the far corner. But for a superb fingertip save from Oleksandr Shovkovskiy, who somehow managed to deflect the ball onto the post, Hazard would have opened the scoring.
However, after a painful clip to the ankle from Andriy Yarmolenko, Hazard’s attacking influence waned as the hosts got a foothold in the game.
Instead of going forward, the Belgian was tasked with containing Yarmolenko and Kiev right-back Danilo Silva with teammate Cesar Azpilicueta — a task he set about purposefully.
Frustratingly for Chelsea’s travelling support, though, later in the first-half there were further signs their winger, who was so decisive in 2014/15, is still below his absolute best.
Hazard’s cross from the right was easily blocked, he was muscled off the ball after surging into the penalty area and then lost his way, and, after exchanging passes with Willian on a charge across the pitch, the 24-year-old’s end product failed to match his intent as he wastefully and needlessly fired the ball at a white shirt.
UEFA’s tracking data showed Hazard outran Willian, who was deployed on the right flank, in the first-half (5.151km v 4.929km). But it was the Brazilian rattling the woodwork at the start of the second period with a fine free kick.
Hazard seemed to be on a mission to impress, though, and, after putting Cesc Fabregas through for a shot on goal, he burst beyond the Dynamo defence only to see Willian’s clipped pass cut out.
Hazard didn’t make a single tackle in the 90 minutes. He only made one clearance and regained possession on one occasion. But he showed how he can contribute with Chelsea on the back foot on 58 minutes when, receiving the ball facing his own goal in the left-back area, he spun two markers, exchanged passes with Fabregas and sent Costa through down the left. It was a fine example of turning defence into attack.
A block from Serhiy Rybalka prevented Hazard from finding the target with a powerful drive a minute later. His wait for a goal for Chelsea has now lasted 16 games.
But even in the 89th minute Hazard was Chelsea’s driving force, leading a counter-attack from a Dynamo corner, switching play from the right to the left, only to see Willian bend his shot wide of the far post.
But for the fingertips of a goalkeeper, the brave block of a defender, or the finishing of his teammates Hazard could have produced the match-winning impact his manager asked for.
Compared with his stats against Southampton — a performance which led to him being dropped — Hazard’s improvement against Dynamo was stark. He recorded more shots, more key passes and a better passing accuracy (a remarkable 90.3 per cent).
After the game Mourinho praised his team. “We had a very good, solid performance. A second clean sheet with every one fighting for each other.” Hazard, showing signs of nearing a return to form, can be satisfied with his contribution. He may not have been a match winner on Tuesday but his importance to the team is clear.
© 2015 Fox Sports | This article was written by Sky Sports’ Peter Smith on 21 October 2015.