Jose Mourinho caused a stir over the weekend when he dropped Eden Hazard for Chelsea’s 2-0 victory over Aston Villa – just the champions’ third Premier League win from nine games this season.
And the Special One has refused to guarantee last season’s PFA Player of the Year a return to the starting lineup for the Blues’ Champions League match away at Dynamo Kiev on Tuesday evening.
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Mourinho has since explained that Hazard’s surprise omission was down to Chelsea’s alarming defensive problems – indicating that he was not happy with the Belgian’s contribution to the cause.
He told Sky Sports after Saturday’s win at Stamford Bridge: “I left out Hazard because we are conceding lots of goals. We need to defend better. When you don’t have the ball, quality means nothing and what means [thumps chest]… you have or you don’t have.
“It was just a tactical decision, leaving super quality on the bench, but bringing tactical discipline and hoping that the team could be solid. Willian and Pedro did amazing defensive work and allowed the midfield players to be very comfortable.
“I continue that way, or he [Hazard] comes in our direction and tries to replicate the same work that Willian and Pedro did.”
The Portuguese was justified in his decision as the best defence in the top division last term, who had previously conceded 17 goals in eight league games, kept their second clean sheet of this campaign.
Clearly he is more trusting in Willian and Pedro to obey his instructions – and may choose to stick with them ahead of Hazard for a European game made more important by Chelsea’s loss to Porto last month.
But how long can Mourinho afford to leave a talent as exceptional as Hazard on the sidelines? The answer – as long as Chelsea are winning and the 24-year-old is not doing as his manager is asking.
This is not the first time that Mourinho has warned Hazard about his defensive responsibilities, and his demand that the winger improves his work-rate and discipline had the feeling of an ultimatum.
Mourinho has not been shy about selling top-class players that don’t adhere to his philosophy since returning as Blues manager in 2013 – Juan Mata and David Luiz being the prime examples.
Should Chelsea decide to cash in on Hazard – something that seemed unthinkable 12 months ago – they would find a suitor in Real Madrid, according to Spanish news outlet Fichajes.net, via the Metro.
We may get more of an idea about Hazard’s long-term future if he is on the bench again in Ukraine.
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