Eden Hazard is the best player in the Premier League. On his day, the 28-year-old Belgian reaches a level of football that places him firmly within reach of Messi and Ronaldo and directly beside Neymar. Last night, Eden Hazard proved this fact yet again with one of the most stunning individual goals witnessed in the history of the Premier League. Though this goal may not even feature in the top five goals of his Chelsea career, the finish was a statement by Hazard. His second goal that secured all of the points for Chelsea and raised his goal tally to 16 served as a perfect finale to his jaw-dropping performance.
Though Hazard has had his best statistical season for Chelsea this year, his team’s inconsistent form and the insanity of the title race between Manchester City and Liverpool will cause his name to drop off of the shortlist for Premier League Player of the Year. The Premier League’s “best player” award tends to arrive in the hands of the player who acted as the catalyst for his team’s winning performance. In recent years, Salah won for his record goal tally that secured Liverpool’s champions league place, Kante won for being at the heart of Antonio Conte’s magical act of dragging Chelsea from 10th to 1st, and Jamie Vardy won for spearheading Leicester’s remarkable run to the Premier League Title. Eden Hazard, who won Player of the Year in Chelsea’s ‘14/’15 league winning season, deserves a different award: Most Valuable Player.
For readers unfamiliar with the American version of the “best player” award, the Most Valuable Player (as the name quite obviously states) is supposed to go to the person whose performances have been genuinely irreplaceable for their team. The MVP is not determined by their potential price-tag or their future potential. What grants Eden Hazard the status of MVP is the glaring and rather embarrassing fact that no team relies on the weekly performances of a single player more than Chelsea relies on their Belgian wizard.
This season, many pundits have tipped Virgil Van Dijk, Raheem Sterling, and Sergio Aguero as frontrunners for the Premier League Player of the Year award. Without question, each of these players presents a viable case for why they should take home the prize. In this season’s historic title race, each of these players has been critical to his club’s sustained success. Sterling’s 15 goals and 9 assists, though fewer than Hazard in each category, have been fundamental contributions to Pep Guardiola’s incredibly successful and dominating football. Similarly, Sergio Aguero has not stopped scoring since the first whistle on matchweek one. The Argentinian striker has racked up numerous goals as the lethal tip of Pep’s baby blue machine. On the other side of the title race, Virgil Van Dijk has been the rock at the heart of Liverpool’s ridiculously efficient and suffocating defense. Compared to last season’s leaky back four, Liverpool’s current defense looks merely alien. Van Dijk has bossed his way to what is undoubtedly Liverpool’s highest ever Premier League charge.
So, if Van Dijk’s impact has been so critical, how come he is not a more valuable player to Liverpool than Hazard is to Chelsea? Well, there are three reasons why not: Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andy Robertson, and Alisson Becker. Though Liverpool would undoubtedly suffer without Van Dijk, the surrounding cast of phenomenal defenders and a goalkeeper with the most clean sheets in the Premier League this season would be more than capable of picking up at least some of the slack.
These players are phenomenal talents who are critical to their team’s successes. When it comes to Liverpool and Manchester City, however, the loss of a single player is not enough to send either team spiraling. Manchester City has suffered the loss of Kevin De Bruyne for almost the entire season. Liverpool endured Mohammed Salah’s longest goal drought since moving to Liverpool from Roma. When it comes to Chelsea, however, if Eden Hazard was not around to save the day, it is hard to envision a scenario in which Chelsea finish the year above Watford or Wolves.
After yesterday’s result, Eden Hazard now has 16 goals and 12 assists in the Premier League this season. For context, that goal tally matches his previous season high of 16 from the 16/17 season. There are still five games to play. Also, his 12 assists are the most from any player in the Premier League. And, to prove how ridiculous his assist statistics are, look at the players surrounding him. Hazard isn’t joined at the front by Sane, Aguero, and Sterling or by Salah, Mane, and Firmino. No, this season Hazard has had Morata, Giroud, Higuain, Pedro, and Willian huffing and puffing down the field beside him. All but one of these players is over 30 and their average age is also 30.
To clarify Chelsea’s dependence on Hazard, one must understand how vital his contributions have been to their form this season. This year, Chelsea has scored 57 total goals in the premier league. Eden Hazard has contributed through goals and assists to 28 of those goals. That is one goal contribution from making up precisely 50% of all of Chelsea’s goals this season. This form is a record that Chelsea should not be proud of. See, next season, while Hazard is romping around Spain wearing a Madrid jersey, who is Chelsea going to turn to make up for half of all of their goals and even more if they want to compete for the title? Also, do not forget that Chelsea may be saddled with a transfer ban that prevents them from bringing in any players to fill this void over the summer. Will Pulisic come up with 28 goal contributions? Will Willian and Pedro who will be 31 and 32 this time next year be able to compensate? Will Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi make up for Hazard’s product? None of these possibilities seem like anything more than shreds of hope.
Ultimately, no player can replace Hazard’s output. He is a once in a generation player, the best player in the premier league, and a legend in Chelsea’s history. If he does depart for Spain, he deserves a loving and respectful send off from Stamford Bridge. After he exits, however, Chelsea must rethink their entire approach to coping without the Belgian wizard. If Chelsea does not find a way to make up for his incredible talent, they will sink into mediocrity and can forget about any chances of European glory.