Eden Hazard playing behind the striker is a topic that has long been debated amongst Blues fans. Since Antonio Conte’s arrival, Eden Hazard has made it quite clear that he would like to be playing in a more central role. I personally think Hazard should be playing behind the striker, although the current system that is operated by Antonio Conte doesn’t particularly suit an out-and-out number 10. The Belgian has the pace and dribbling ability of a quick winger like Heung Min Son, and the passing ability of a classy playmaker like Dimitri Payet.
Hazard has mostly been played as a left winger since his arrival from Lille in 2012, but despite this, a lot of the play goes through him. The way Chelsea use Hazard is similar to the way Dimitri Payet and Riyad Mahrez play at their respective clubs; they occupy the position of a standard wide midfielder or winger, but they act as a playmaker for the team. The position of a wide playmaker works well for a less direct player in Dimitri Payet, but not so well for more direct players like Hazard who like to run with the ball: as it stands, Chelsea really don’t have a standout playmaker like Kevin De Bruyne, so Chelsea should definitely be playing Hazard in a more central role.
Antonio Conte has played a 3-4-2-1 formation in both Chelsea’s two most recent matches. Hazard has played a more central role in this new formation which for me works very well for both Hazard and the team. Hazard plays in a similar role to that which his Belgium teammate Kevin De Bruyne occupies at Manchester City; Hazard, like De Bruyne, plays alongside another playmaker and it appears Willian is Conte’s preferred choice here. De Bruyne plays alongside either David Silva or Ilkay Gündoğan in a 4-3-3 which has gotten the best out of him this season. Chelsea fans will be hoping for the same sort of outcome if Hazard is moved to a central role.
The major weakness I see with the 3-4-2-1 is the two man central midfield. This may be a vulnerability against sides that play three in midfield and/or have more quality in their midfield. For the upcoming fixture with Manchester United, I would consider playing a 3-5-1-1 with Pedro dropping to the bench for either Nathaniel Chalobah, Cesc Fàbregas or Oscar. This system would allow Eden Hazard to play as a second striker directly behind Diego Costa who is in blistering form, and would bring the best out of Hazard. I have been one to criticise defensive tactics by all three managers over the past two seasons, but I still believe that a slightly more defensive approach to this game is needed.
John Terry is likely to be back fit for this clash, and I would throw him straight back in to the team and take out any of the three centre halves who started against Leicester, though they have all been reasonably solid in Chelsea’s two most recent fixtures. Willian is likely to be back from compassionate leave and is likly to slot straight back in, in place of Victor Moses in a wing back role; Moses has been superb under Conte but Willian has too much quality to not get in the starting eleven. Nathaniel Chalobah has surely done more than Matic to warrant a start, and surely either Oscar or Fàbregas should start along with Kanté.
In low-scoring games – which the United match is shaping up to be – you need that extra bit of spark. When Hazard is on form, he’s easily Chelsea’s best player, and so he will be key. This new central role is shaping up nicely for him, and it’s good to see him back as the focal point of the side.