At a time when Chelsea fans should have been celebrating their club’s Europa League triumph thanks to a 4-1 win over London rivals Arsenal, the Blues were brought back to earth with a bang.
After scoring two goals in the win, Eden Hazard all but confirmed his departure from Chelsea, with Real Madrid expected to be his next destination.
“I don’t know yet, we will decide in a few days,” he told reporters.
“I’ve made my decision already. It’s depending on both clubs. We will know in a couple of days.
“I think it is a goodbye, but in football you never know. My dream was to play in the Premier League and I’ve done that for seven lovely years.
“Maybe it is time for a new challenge.”
Immediately, messages of gratitude poured in for the Belgian who has spent seven years at Chelsea, winning six major trophies including two Europa Leagues, one FA Cup, one League Cup and two Premier League titles.
And while Hazard is deserving of the praise he will receive, Chelsea need to look to the future now, to work out how they are going to cope without their star man.
But just what will they be losing, and how can they fill the void left behind by Hazard?
Just how big is the void?
Although many know of Hazard’s importance to Chelsea, some don’t understand just how crucial the Belgian is to the Blues’ successes – particularly over the 2018/19 season.
In the Premier League, Chelsea scored 63 goals, the sixth-highest in the division and worst of those to finish in the top six.
Scoring 16 goals and recording a further 15 assists, Hazard was directly involved in just under half (49.2%) of Chelsea’s Premier League goals. No other team in the Premier League was more reliant on a single player than Chelsea with Hazard during the 2018/19 campaign, with Jamie Vardy closest, contributing to 43.1% of Leicester City’s goals.
352 games. 110 goals. 81 assists. 6 trophies.
If that was Eden Hazard's final game in a Chelsea shirt, what an incredible way to sign off. 🙌 pic.twitter.com/Cl9iUo00CT
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 29, 2019
Although someone of Hazard’s calibre is likely to be heavily involved in a team’s total goal output, when that player is then set to leave, it opens a big problem for the club.
Beyond Hazard, Chelsea’s next best player with regards to goal involvement was Pedro, with the Spaniard scoring eight and recording two assists – the only other Blues star to reach double figures in the Premier League.
And even when spread across all competitions, Hazard still leads the way for Chelsea, being involved in 38 goals – scoring 21 and adding 17 assists. The Belgian stands 17 clear of anyone else, with Olivier Giroud and Pedro both contributing to 21 goals.
Then, there’s the little things Hazard does on the pitch, which can sometimes be overlooked but should not be taken for granted.
In addition to Hazard’s 15 assists in the Premier League, the Belgian created more chances from open play than any other player (80), 31 more than Chelsea team-mate Willian. Including set pieces, only James Maddison (100) was more creative than Hazard (98) across the whole of the Premier League, with Willian again his closest Chelsea team-mate, this time only 21 behind.
Then there’s the ability to beat an opponent one-on-one, which can open up opportunities to create chances, something Hazard has made his own in the Premier League. The Belgian completed 138 take-ons in the Premier League last season, more than any other player. Remarkably, no other Chelsea player managed more than 44, with Pedro almost 100 behind his Belgian team-mate.
The Blues will be losing that special something when Hazard does leave, so how can they replace him?
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How Chelsea can replace Hazard without transfers
Although Chelsea will certainly want to dip into the transfer market in order to improve their squad and help replace Hazard, the harsh reality is that they will likely be banned from signing anyone.
The Blues are currently banned from signing players for the next two transfer windows, for breaking rules regarding the registration of minors. Chelsea have already seen an appeal rejected by FIFA, and though they are planning to take the decision to the Court for Arbitration of Sport (CAS) – as it stands their ban remains intact.
And if CAS uphold the ban, Chelsea need to start planning for next season by looking within – at current stars and returning loanees, of which they have an abundance.
Assuming Chelsea do stick with Maurizio Sarri, the Blues will continue in their 4-3-3 formation with largely the same team that saw them return to the Champions League and win the Europa League.
That means no changes are likely to the back line, with Reece James possibly pushing Cesar Azpilicueta at right-back going into the 2020/21 season.
The midfield trio is also unlikely to be altered by any returning loanees or academy players, meaning – when all are fully fit, Ruben Loftus-Cheek should accompany N’Golo Kante and Jorginho.
Towards the end of the 2018/19 season, Loftus-Cheek proved himself as Chelsea’s best attack-minded midfielder, perfect for the left side of Sarri’s trio, joining the winger in pushing his side forward.
On the right wing, January signing Christian Pulisic returns from his loan at Borussia Dortmund and should add some much-needed youth in attack, getting ahead of Willian and Pedro.
His arrival may see the attacking responsibilities shared more down both wings, with the American averaging 4.1 completed take-ons per 90 minutes in the Bundesliga last season, while also creating 1.37 chances per 90.
Although Chelsea have extended Giroud’s contract for another season, the Frenchman still won’t be favoured by Sarri to lead the line. After his impressive campaign with Aston Villa, there is very much a chance that Tammy Abraham could be Chelsea’s new No.9, introducing a style of play that would be perfect for Sarriball to work at Stamford Bridge.
That just leaves the man to replace Hazard: Chelsea’s own Callum Hudson-Odoi. The teenager endured a tough time breaking into Sarri’s team but looked like doing so towards the end of the season, proving himself in the Europa League. Hudson-Odoi was only robbed of an appearance in the final due to a season-ending Achilles injury picked up in April.
And should Chelsea hold onto their young star, tying him to a new contract, David Luiz believes Hudson-Odoi can become a Stamford Bridge legend.
“He’s known this club since he was young, and he has the talent one day to be like Eden,” Luiz told reporters.
Hudson-Odoi ended his first full season with the Chelsea first team with five goals and five assists in 24 games and started four Premier League matches in a row before injury.
The talent is still raw and his defending needs working on, but Hudson-Odoi is one for Chelsea’s future and can fill the gap left by Hazard – once he returns to fitness.
How Chelsea can replace Hazard using the transfer market
Should the unlikely happen, and Chelsea’s ban be overturned – or at least delayed while the appeal is pending – the Blues will undoubtedly use any money from Hazard’s transfer fee to replace the Belgian.
According to reports, Chelsea are eyeing up Barcelona winger Philippe Coutinho as that replacement, with the Brazilian expected to be on his way out from the Nou Camp.
Coutinho has not had the best time in Barcelona since joining from Liverpool in January 2018, struggling to live up to the expectations that come with being the third-most expensive player on the planet.
And although the Brazilian has had a year to forget, that doesn’t mean he has suddenly turned into a bad player. The talent is still there, Coutinho just needs a club where he can run the show – as he used to for Liverpool. And what better place than a Chelsea team set to be losing their best player?
Before Coutinho left for Barcelona in the 2017/18 season, the Brazilian was directly involved in 13 goals in 14 games for Liverpool – scoring seven and recording six assists. In addition to this, he created 40 chances and completed 39 take-ons. If played in the right system, Coutinho can be Hazard’s replacement.
But given the Brazilian’s huge transfer fee, reportedly being valued at £140m – £25m more than Chelsea are likely to get for Hazard – Coutinho’s arrival would probably be the Blues’ only new attacking arrival, meaning no new striker and either Abraham or Giroud leading the line.
Further back, Elseid Hysaj has recently announced his intentions to leave Napoli this summer and, having previously been linked with a move to Chelsea, could be reunited with Sarri at Stamford Bridge.