Time for Chelsea FC’s Eden Hazard replacements to prove their worth against Real Madrid

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James Robson
·4-min read
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 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Jose Mourinho best summed up Eden Hazard's impact on English football: "History says that when Eden Hazard is the best player of the Premier League, Chelsea is the champion."

Mourinho was not even Chelsea boss at the time of the comment in 2018, but he had witnessed firsthand the Belgian's ability to elevate those around him.

Hazard won two titles and six major trophies in seven years at Stamford Bridge. His parting gift before an £89million move to Real Madrid was a vintage performance in Chelsea's Europa League Final against Arsenal, scoring twice in a 4-1 win in Baku. Nearly two years on, they are still trying to emerge from his shadow.

Thomas Tuchel approaches tonight's Champions League semi-final, first leg against Real without an obvious talisman. There are key players: N'Golo Kante a driving force in midfield; Mason Mount increasingly the most influential attacking presence; and Cesar Azpilicueta a leader and warrior.

But there is no Hazard-type figure to seize a match of this magnitude and make it his own; no single player Real will have identified beforehand as being capable of winning the game almost single-handedly. That is what Hazard could do at his best when wearing blue.

Despite huge sums being spent on Kai Havertz, Christian Pulisic and Timo Werner over the past two years, none has come close to filling the void vacated by Chelsea's legendary No10.

Tuchel's success in his first three months in charge has been a collective effort, perhaps more out of necessity than design, with his forwards failing to score on a consistent basis.

But it is perhaps fitting that Pulisic — the man who inherited Hazard's shirt — has found his best form of the season so far ahead of a potential reunion between Chelsea and their departed icon.

"He was an incredible player who did a lot for this football club," said the USA winger. "We are moving on without him. I never played with him, so I only know how it is without him. I think we are in good place now. I mean, we are in a semi-final of the Champions League, we have got a lot left to play for this season, so I think this team definitely is in a good situation at the moment.

"I definitely looked up to him. I am not comparing myself to him in any way or trying to be like him. I am my own player, doing my best for this club. Obviously, it is an honour to hear comparisons, but I still have a way to go."

Any involvement from Hazard tonight is likely to be from the bench, with the 30-year-old only just returning from his latest injury setback. His time at Real has been blighted by fitness issues, meaning he has failed to fill the boots of another icon in Cristiano Ronaldo.

While Chelsea are trying to reinvent themselves post-Hazard, Real are desperately seeking to move on after Ronaldo.

For both clubs, the Champions League represents the opportunity to prove there is life after, arguably, the greatest players in their history, respectively.

Zinedine Zidane will be hoping this can be the moment Hazard ignites his Real career after returning from a muscle injury against Real Betis last weekend. "The most important thing was that he did not think anything about his problems," said the Real manager. "He is happy because he is going to contribute to the team a lot."

AFP via Getty Images
AFP via Getty Images

Tuchel is also aware of the danger of Hazard coming back to haunt Chelsea.

"Eden is a top quality player, a key player here for many years at this club, in this league, which is the hardest in the world," he said. "He was so consistent here for this club. I have big respect for him.

"He was a key player for this club and now he plays for Real Madrid. He is fit, he had a comeback in the last game to be ready for tomorrow.

"If he plays, then I am pretty sure he will want to make a point.

"Let's see what we prefer. With or without him? They can leave the spot open, I have no problem with that, and play with 10. There are so many quality players at Madrid and we have to face the challenge."

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