Players of the Week
GW 3: Hazard, Sterling and Sanchez all impress…
Last season, the major surprise package was Leicester City as they swept all aside to claim their first Premier League title. However, in the midst of Ranieri’s sensational achievements, was the worst title defence of all time, as Chelsea, under Mourinho, capitulated. No one epitomised this slump as accurately as Eden Hazard, who in the 15/16 season was a shadow of his former self. Pundits, players and fans can debate the reasons why, but in reality, it’s extremely difficult to understand how the PFA player of the year went from hero to zero. The only consistency was that Hazard scored the goal that won the Premier League title, albeit not for his own team this time round, but for Leicester.
Yet, after all that disappointment, Hazard, under new manager Conte, seems to be getting back to his best. Against West Ham, on the opening day, Hazard was sensational. He buried a penalty to grab the opening goal and looked a constant threat against a nervous Hammers backline. Against Watford, Chelsea turned it round with 15 minutes to go, and again, Hazard, was instrumnetal. It was the Belgians rebounded shot which allowed Chelsea to get level and he was a menace throughout.
However, it was against Burnley, on Saturday, where Hazard looked back to his best. A sensational opening goal paved the way for a comfortable 3–0 win. The winger dazzled past standstill Burnley defenders and slotted the ball past Tom Heaton who was unable to do anything about it. Hazard seems to be flourishing under Conte’s tactics as he touched the ball, 91 times, which was more than any other player on the pitch. Critically, for Chelsea fans, Hazard has now scored 6 in his last 8 league matches, compared to 6 in the previous 44 prior to this run. It really is a remarkable turn of form, and one which will no doubt give reason to be optimistic for Chelsea fans about the season ahead.
Raheem Sterling looks a player reborn. A dismal summer, at the Euros with England, and a poor debut season at City for the £49m man, look to be well behind the young winger. Pep’s arrival may of signalled the end of Sterling’s City days, as many speculated, but in fact, the new manager seems to have inspired the very best out of the player. At Liverpool, Sterling always possessed immense potential but his final ball or decision was lacking in quality. Yet, this season, Raheem has been involved in a large percentage of the goals. Against West Ham, on Sunday, Sterling scored twice, both impressive finishes, and a real product of his high confidence. Clearly, Pep’s tactics suit Sterling, who has always possessed immense ability in one and one situations. As Guardiola instructs his wing backs to push narrower, and act as deep lying midfielders, this allows the City wingers to take on their respective full backs one on one, which suits Raheem’s game. Sterling was instrumental on the weekend, yet again, and I’d expect him to be brilliant for the rest of the season.
Arsenal really needed the 3 points at Watford on Saturday to kick start their season, and it was fitting that their two talismans, Sanchez and Ozil, came up with the goods. In particular, Sanchez was electric. A well taken and difficult finish gave Arsenal a 2–0, first half lead, before Ozil finished the job off before the interval. Sanchez was immense throughout, displaying the kind of form that has so often got supporters off their seats and excited. If Arsenal are to push ahead and claim a place in the top four, or even challenge for the title, the Chilean will need to be at his very best. Next up for Arsenal is a home tie against Southampton, which the Gunners will hope to win and build some momentum.
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