Wednesday 18 September 2019

Hazard happy again and in it for the long haul

Chelsea 1-0 Norwich City

Eden Hazard gets away from Gary O'Neil
Eden Hazard gets away from Gary O'Neil
Robbie Brady and John Terry embrace after the final whistle

Matt Law

Eden Hazard has dropped a heavy hint that he has no desire to quit Chelsea at the end of the season by claiming he wanted to win a lot of trophies with Jose Mourinho "next season and on".

Hazard has been linked with a summer move to Real Madrid following Chelsea's terrible start to the season, amid suggestions that he had fallen out with Mourinho.

However, the Belgian has helped to dispel any doubts over his willingness to work for Mourinho by revealing that his recent return to form had come as a result of a discussion with the manager in which the midfielder asked to be switched to his favoured No 10 role.

Mourinho had told Hazard that he needs to work harder after dropping him from the starting line-up for the Aston Villa game, and that was underlined when the midfielder was reluctant to join the rest of the substitutes for a post-match warm down after going on for the final seven minutes.

Hazard's childish side has also been evident this season, as he 'liked' an Instagram post linking him with Real, but it now seems that he and Mourinho have settled any differences.

"I don't have a problem with him [Mourinho]," Hazard said.

"I heard a lot of things about this, but no.

"Everything is good with him. He is the best manager. He is the best manager for Chelsea and we hope we can win a lot of trophies together. Maybe not this season because it will be difficult, but next season and on."

Mourinho met Hazard at the club's Cobham training ground the day after Chelsea's defeat at West Ham United - a match in which the Belgian had been disappointing.

The meeting was called in an attempt to examine reasons for Hazard's poor performances and see how the pair could help the forward to recapture the form that led to him being voted Player of the Year last season.

Hazard, 24, told his manager that he would like to try the No 10 role and Mourinho responded by changing the Belgian's position during the League Cup defeat at Stoke City and starting him in the centre in Chelsea's past three Premier League games.

Gradually, Hazard started to find his form and produced his best performance of the season in Chelsea's vital win against Norwich City at Stamford Bridge.

The midfielder is still at a loss to explain why he started the campaign so badly, but hopes his discussion with Mourinho will prove to be a turning point.

"We spoke together before the Stoke game," Hazard said.

"I said to him: 'Maybe we have to try something, to change something. Maybe I have to play at No 10 because we have to try.'

"We did and I played a very good game in the cup in Stoke. And, against Norwich, it was the same. I don't know if I have to play every game as a No 10. I just want to play."

Hazard was one of the Chelsea players affected by the cancelled international game between Belgium and Spain because of the terrorist threat in his home country, with Brussels put on high alert over the weekend.

Asked if it had been a strange week for him, Hazard said: "Yes. We love football. Everybody loves football. When we cannot play, it's difficult.

"But, for the security, it was better to cancel the Belgium game. I hope in a couple of days it will be good everywhere again."

One win proves little, especially against a side as limited as Norwich, but there is reason to believe the worst is over at Chelsea.

Their three previous Premier League successes this season - against West Bromwich Albion in August, Arsenal in September and Aston Villa in October - were each followed by more failures and in none of those matches did Chelsea convince.

This was different. Performances have been improving and this time the result followed, with the margin flattering Norwich, not Chelsea.

The virtuous circle is completed by a growing sense of stability around the club, and increased confidence in the players.

Champions League qualification for the knockout rounds, which may be achieved when Chelsea play Maccabi Tel-Aviv in Israel tomorrow, would further lighten the mood ahead of Sunday's tricky visit to White Hart Lane.

Chelsea are still in the bottom half of the table, but the idea of them coming fourth suddenly seems less improbable.

Saturday's victory, via a Diego Costa goal, leapfrogged them over Norwich, whose form, with one win in eight matches and five defeats in six, is notably worse than Chelsea's.

Lower expectations mean there is no sense of crisis at Carrow Road and, while the Canaries can be ruthless when making managerial changes, Alex Neil has a lot of credit in the bank after last season's promotion.

"I am comfortable we have enough in the squad (to survive)," he said, before contradicting himself by adding: "January is coming up and we will try and strengthen, if we can it will certainly help us. It is no secret we tried to add quality in the summer, but a few fell through on deadline day."

Neil laughed in response to Mourinho's claim that there was a referees' conspiracy against Chelsea, a bitter laugh given that he felt Norwich should have been awarded a penalty with the game goalless when Willian blundered into Robbie Brady.


"It would be interesting to see what Jose thought if he managed one of the bottom teams, it is very different I can assure you," Neil said.

"When everyone apart from a corner of away fans is shouting at the ref and putting him under pressure, and there is a high-profile manager like Jose shouting at the fourth official…

"The referee is only human, it is bound to have some sort of effect. Whether it makes a difference in the decision or not remains to be seen."

Neil had a brief contretemps with a member of Chelsea's staff who was upset at the way Neil, too, berated the fourth official.

"I am in there fighting for my team," said Neil. "I want us to get the decisions we should get during a game - if you don't appeal, remonstrate and ask for decisions you won't get them.

"Smaller teams really need these decisions to be given as we won't get five or six incidents like that in a game, we may only get one, if it is a free-kick or penalty we need it to be given."

Three years to the day since Rafael Benitez was installed as interim successor to Champions League-winning boss Roberto di Matteo, Costa struck for the winner - and only his fourth of the season - on 64 minutes Costa after a quick free-kick by Cesc Fabregas.

Costa had earlier been conspicuous by his absence when Hazard twice delivered great crosses, while he wasted two other chances.

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