As Eden Hazard so instinctively but intricately rolled the ball past Hugo Lloris for Chelsea’s game-breaking goal against Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday, Cesc Fabregas was even more satisfied than most, and not because both had come on as substitutes with Diego Costa to change that FA Cup semi-final.
It was that this strike marked an ongoing change in Hazard’s game, as he showed a ruthlessness and “pure instinct” that Fabregas had been encouraging him to take his game to the next level. Having played at Barcelona, the Spanish midfielder feels Leo Messi is the only player in the world who can surpass Hazard for technical ability, but has long felt the Belgian needs to “be more selfish” to reach the “unstoppable” level that he should.
The goal to make it 3-2 in the 4-2 win over Spurs was exactly the kind of moment that truly separates such players, and that he needs to provide more of.
Asked whether Hazard is pushing to the level of Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, Fabregas said: "He is and we have to help him as well to achieve that. Eden can be whatever he wants to be. I've played with many, many players and sometimes when we have a counter attack and it's two against two and he passes the ball, I tell him: 'You have the capability to score by yourself. Do it'.
“He has to do it more often. He has to, for me, be more selfish sometimes, as all the top, top players are. I hope - and I'm sure - he will improve in the future. And then he will be unstoppable.
“Ability wise, there is only one player above him and we all know who he is: Messi. Ability-wise he's up there with the best. Just in my opinion, and I've told him many, many times, he needs to be selfish sometimes and have that pure instinct to score more goals and then he will be whatever he wants to be.”
Spurs had been on top as the game reached the hour mark and, having just equalised for a second time, Mauricio Pochettino’s side looked the more likely winners. It was at that point Antonio Conte introduced Hazard and Costa, before eventually bringing on Fabregas as well, as if to almost emphasise they had a level of experience and quality above Tottenham.
“Yes, but I don’t want to say that Spurs do not have experience,” the midfielder said. “They have been playing together for a while, yes they are a young side, but they competed for the title last year, they are four points behind us, they are in the FA Cup semi-final, they are a team that are where they are because they are playing very well and they are competitors.
“After that maybe, in the second half when we were able to bring on three players very, very fresh with experience, with a lot of talent, probably there it made a big change during the game because they were controlling it, and then all of a sudden we started controlling the game. But I think it was a very 50-50 game that could have gone either way.
“You never want to accept it [being on the bench] as a player. Whoever you are. It can happen, as it happened today. But for us also very, very important is Tuesday’s game [against Southampton], and maybe that had something to do with it.
“And it worked really well. At 2-2 you them on with half an hour to go, they change the game and you win. It’s fantastic to be able to do that, and that means that the whole squad is ready to go, whoever plays is ready to step up, like [Nathan] Ake, [Michy] Batshuayi and Willian today, they hadn’t played for a while, and it’s good to see that.”
“We worked during the week in a certain way. I cannot say it changed a lot, we didn’t do as much physical work, maybe we did a bit more tactical, how to approach the game. Because we know they are a v good side and maybe they wanted to surprise us with a few things. And we wanted to be ready for everything – and there was three big changes for us, so we wanted to make sure that everyone knew what they were doing, and it worked.”