It is fair to say that Eden Hazard is one of the best players we have seen at Chelsea in the Premier League era. He made the move to the Premier League from Lille in 2012, and in the six years since has become one of the best players in the world.
After Belgium’s 2-0 win over England in the third place play-off, during which Hazard scored, the 27 year-old said:
“After six wonderful years at Chelsea it might be time to discover something different. Certainly after this World Cup. I can decide if I want to stay or go, but Chelsea will make the final decision – if they want to let me go. You know my preferred destination.”
Hazard has come on leaps and bounds in his time at Chelsea. He was still a raw talent when he made the £32 million move to Stamford Bridge after Chelsea’s Champions League triumph in 2012, and he has now put himself right up among the best players in the world.
He has appeared 300 times in all competitions for Chelsea, scoring 89 goals, and winning two Premier League titles, an FA Cup, a League Cup, and the 2012/13 Europa League.
He has a lot to thank Chelsea for. He had a shocking 2015/16 season, during which, despite winning the PFA Player of the Year award the previous campaign, he took until April to score his first league goal of the season, and struggled to hold down a place in the team. It would have been easy for Chelsea to sell him in the summer and look to move on, but they gave him another chance, and he has made the most of it.
Given that Real Madrid have just sold Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus, it is likely that they will be looking for someone in Hazard’s mould to come in, and it is no secret that Real is the Belgian’s dream move.
If he goes, Chelsea will have to replace Hazard, and here are five men they could look to sign to do just that.
#1 Dries Mertens (Napoli)
We’ve already seen Jorginho follow Maurizio Sarri from Napoli to Chelsea, so it isn’t out of the question that Mertens could do it as well. He has thrived in his last two seasons in Serie A under Sarri, scoring 46 leagues goals in the league, 24 more than in his previous three seasons combined. Mertens plays a similar role to Hazard in Naples, and has played alongside him on the international stage with Belgium.
At 31, Mertens would only be a short-term replacement for Hazard, but has defied stereotypes by producing his best form after the age of 30. It can only last so long however, so he could only have one or two years left at the top of his game. If Chelsea were to make the move, it would be low risk, because Mertens’ release clause is just £24.7 million. In this day and age, that isn’t too much, so don’t be too surprised if he turns up at Stamford Bridge this summer.
#2 Hirving Lozano (PSV)
Very little was known of Lozano a couple of months ago, but after an impressive showing at the World Cup in Russia, he is one of football’s hottest properties. He had a good season in the Eredivisie last year, scoring 17 goals in 29 games for PSV, but the fact he has shown what he can do on the biggest stage, means he has started to attract interest from some of Europe’s biggest clubs.
He is another man who is similar to Hazard in his style. He is most comfortable on the left wing, but is right footed, so is able to cut inside, which was how he scored a number of his goals last season. He is one of the quickest players we have seen at this World Cup, and that is always something clubs will be looking to add to their sides. His temperament has been bought into question in the past, as despite only being 22, he has already received eight red cards in his career. That would make it a risk for Chelsea to make a move, as would his lack of experience, as last year was his first in European football.
#3 Leon Bailey (Bayer Leverkusen)
Bailey is one of the most talked about footballers in Europe at the moment, partly due to questions of who he would declare his international allegiance for heading into the World Cup. Bailey is available to play for Jamaica, the country of his birth, and it is also believed that he is able to play for Belgium and England. It is no surprise that both countries wanted him to play for them. He is still only 20, but has already shown how good a player he could be in a couple of years.
Any Chelsea interest in Bailey wouldn’t come as a surprise, given that the Blues, along with Manchester United, were both interested in bringing him to England before he joined Bayer Leverkusen in January 2017. He has all the attributes needed to be a top player. He is a fast, tricky winger, but will feel that his final product does need some improvement. He isn’t the finished product just yet, and Chelsea may have to wait a couple of years to get the best out of him, but it could be worth it.
#4 Gareth Bale (Real Madrid)
Bale is an interesting one, because there is a chance he could leave Real Madrid after struggling to hold down a first team spot in the last couple of years, but with Cristiano Ronaldo now gone, and Julen Lopetegui taking over, he may be prepared to give it another season. He is 29 now, so should be at the peak of his career, and will really want to be somewhere he is guaranteed football week-in, week-out.
There is no doubting Bale’s ability. He scored 16 goals in La Liga last season despite being limited to just 26 appearances because of injuries. His crowning glory though came in the Champions League final, where he scored a magnificent overhead kick to help take his side to victory over Liverpool. There aren’t many better players that Chelsea could sign this summer. On his day, Bale is right up there with the best in the world, but the issue with the Welshman has always been injures, and Chelsea will worry how much he would be available this season if he does make the move to Stamford Bridge.
#5 Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace)
Zaha is probably the wildcard on this list. He doesn’t have the numbers of the other players on the list, but his importance to Crystal Palace is something worth looking at. Palace didn’t win any of the nine Premier League games that he missed last season, and he played a crucial role in helping them avoid relegation.
He does have a lot of qualities that will be attractive to Chelsea. He is fast, direct, and despite what his numbers suggest, does have a good finishing product. Often, we see players raise their games when surrounded by better players, and that’s the sort of thing we could see from Zaha if he moves to Stamford Bridge. However, the Blues may be slightly put off by the fact he seemed out of his depth when he joined Manchester United in 2013, but you’d expect that he has matured since then.