In American sports, we often debate who is the best player rather than the best team. Sports like basketball and baseball lend themselves to this, where an individual performance and MVP debates often dominate the conversation. In soccer, a team driven sport at its core,the best player debate is often buried beneath team discussions, simply because it’s nearly impossible to separate the individual from the team they play on.
This season in the Premier League, Eden Hazard has bucked that trend. Hazard’s play with Chelsea throughout the season has been transcendent, and while players like Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo dominate the headlines stateside, Hazard has undoubtedly proven he belongs in that conversation amongst the world’s elite.
An important point of distinction that comes with elevating Hazard’s play in the Premier League this season is that it really doesn’t show up in the stat sheet. His 12 goals this season will not put him into any Golden Boot race, and most of those goals come from the penalty spot anyway, rather than the run of play.
Hazard’s role on Chelsea comes as more of a facilitator, though his seven assists won’t put him in the category of top assist men in the EPL either. It’s hard to quantify what Eden Hazard does on a weekly basis in West London, though any follower of the Premier League knows just how dangerous the Chelsea winger is. On a team with Diego Costa, the Premier League’s top scorer, and Cesc Fabregas, the Premier League’s top assist man, Hazard is the engine that makes the entire system work.
However, with limited goals and assists to back it up, it’s hard for the casual fan to understand what makes Hazard one of the best true Number 10s in the entire world.
First and foremost, it’s hard to discount a man who is the best player on the best team. Barring a miracle run from Arsenal, Chelsea will likely win the Premier League this season and had the title relatively locked up with two months left in the season. Legendary manager Jose Mourinho has attributed much of that success to Hazard, and his willingness to get better each and every day at both recovering on the defensive end and attacking more intelligently in the opposing half. It’s hard to quantify how Hazard’s shifty feet and head fakes constantly put defenders out of position, but anyone who watched Chelsea this year sees how the Belgian winger has opened up space for other players on the squad. Opposing defenses are forced to mark Hazard at an alarming rate, leaving more opportunities for players like Diego Costa and Fabregas.
If we delve deeper into Hazard’s play, we find that the accuracy of his passing and dribbling rates rank amongst the top five in the entire Premier League. Additionally, his high profile role on Chelsea puts a target on his back each and every week in what is considered the toughest defensive league in the world. While Messi and Ronaldo are often chastised for dominating the so-called “Ole” defenses of La Liga, Hazard has darted through defenders with ease this season, despite the difficulty of the Premier League. I think we can all agree, it’s a bit easier for Messi to get through Granada’s back line in 70 degree weather than it is Hazard to get around Stoke’s when it’s 40 and raining.
Eden Hazard has demonstrated all the skills of a top flight, world class soccer player this season, and while the stats may not back up his prowess, the eye test certainly does, which is why I endorse Eden Hazard for the EPL Player of the Year.