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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 October 2018

Eden Hazard loving life under Maurizio Sarri at Chelsea where 'attacking players' benefit

Belgian midfielder believes London side can take momentum from League Cup win into Saturday's Premier League clash at Stamford Bridge

Eden Hazard was Chelsea's hero on Wednesday against Liverpool. Getty Images
Eden Hazard was Chelsea's hero on Wednesday against Liverpool. Getty Images

“I am just scoring goals,” reflected Eden Hazard. “That is why everyone is talking for me to be in the top three.”

He is scoring goals – seven games this season, only four of them starts, have produced seven.

But he is not just scoring goals, as he modestly suggested. Two assists underline his creative contribution.

At Anfield on Wednesday, he produced “one of the most beautiful goals I have ever scored.” It was not just a goal, but the goal that eliminated Liverpool from the League Cup.

The notion of him being a top-three hit was advanced when Maurizio Sarri declared him the best player in Europe now after his hat-trick against Cardiff City earlier this month.

His superlative form sees him bracketed with Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi more often. “It is good,” he smiled.

Teammate Ross Barkley was more effusive, while also suggesting Hazard’s altruistic streak probably cost him more goals and individual glory.

“Compared to those players, they are probably a lot more selfish than Eden is,” the former Everton midfielder said. “He is not a selfish player. He is happy getting two assists and the team winning.

"He is adding goals and he keeps improving. What he has done against Liverpool; honestly, he’s doing it every day in training. It’s no surprise to us. At the minute, he is the best player in the world.”

Hazard supported Barkley’s theory that he is not obsessing over his individual exploits. Sarri has said he can register 40 goals this season.

“It is not important how many goals I score. I don’t care about that,” he said.

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It is hard to imagine Ronaldo coming out with such a statement and meaning it, but perhaps Hazard’s more laidback nature explains why he is still at Chelsea.

Whereas his Belgium teammate Thibaut Courtois pushed for a move to Real Madrid, Hazard did not.

He is relishing life at Stamford Bridge. “At the moment, we are winning games so it is more easy to smile but when I am on the pitch I just try to be happy,” he explained.

The sense is that Sarri’s arrival has made him happier, liberating him to attack. “I don’t feel like saying that I didn’t have any freedom under my previous managers. [Antonio] Conte and [Jose] Mourinho also let me do what I wanted in the last third,” he insisted.

Yet Chelsea are a more attacking side now. Sarri’s 4-3-3 formation is a reason; so, too, the introduction of the playmaker Jorginho.

“We have different players, players that we didn’t have last season, players who like to have the ball,” Hazard added.

“We have more possession than before. The attacking players benefit from that. We get more touches, more opportunities to create chances, to dribble more, more chances to shoot on target. Sarri is a manager who likes to have the ball. That makes a big difference.”

If the Italian has felt a transformative presence in his opening months in England, the question is if Chelsea’s Wednesday win at Anfield, ending Liverpool’s 100 percent start to the season, will be a factor in Saturday's rematch at Stamford Bridge.

“This game was important for Saturday,” Hazard said. “We won against one of the best in the world, a big club that had won all of their games this season.”

It is far too soon to bill it a title decider and when Hazard said “City, Liverpool, maybe Chelsea and Tottenham are going to compete for the title,” the “maybe” suggested the Londoners are outsiders.

Yet they possess the form player in the country, if not the continent.

As Barkley said: “He is Eden Hazard. He is capable of producing magic at any moment in the game.”