Chelsea players fear Conte tactics will hasten Hazard departure
Chelsea players are worried that the safety-first tactics of head coach Antonio Conte could persuade Eden Hazard to leave.
The club are prepared to pay Hazard more than £300,000 (€337,000) a week to extend his contract past 2020 and ignore interest from Real Madrid and Manchester City.
But team-mates fear he is becoming exasperated with being asked to play in the ‘false nine’ position in their biggest games and believe he wants to play for a club who will go toe-to-toe against Europe’s best.
Although Conte is expected to leave at the end of the season, there is concern the Italian’s approach will force Hazard to consider whether Chelsea can match his ambitions.
Hazard had been promised he would be given the platform one day to win the Ballon d’Or at the club, but his performances in the biggest games are being stifled.
Chelsea have vowed to reject any offer from City for Hazard – even if the Premier League leaders offer to break the world-record fee of £200 million – but realise they would struggle to stand in the way of a switch to Real.
Having already admitted he would have preferred to play in his favoured left-sided position against Barcelona in the Champions League last month, Hazard could not hide his frustration at being played through the middle against City.
“When you leave the pitch, you have the impression that you’ve ran, but that you haven’t played a game of football,” said Hazard. “That’s a pity. We could have played on for three hours and I wouldn’t touch a ball. Only at the end, it went better. In the last 10-15 minutes, we had more possession, but we should have tried to do that all game.
“It’s difficult to play a good game when you only touch the ball three times. I tried to jump towards the long balls. We haven’t played with our qualities. If (Olivier) Giroud or (Alvaro) Morata played up front, it would have been easier to play long balls. I’ve tried to do my best.”
Following the first-leg draw with Barcelona, Hazard (right) said: “In games like this against a quality opposition, it’s difficult. You don’t get a lot of balls. I think I might have touched 25 balls – and 15 of them were flying toward my head. That’s not really playing with my qualities.”
Against City, Hazard was substituted with Chelsea chasing a one-goal deficit, which also happened in the previous match against Manchester United.
The forward’s Belgian team-mate Thibaut Courtois had questioned the wisdom of substituting Hazard in the defeat by United, saying: “I have no explanation for the substitution. I did not expect it, but it’s the manager’s choice. He’ll explain it. I can’t look into his head.”
Chelsea are also trying to negotiate a new contract with Courtois who, like Hazard, is wanted by Real Madrid, as well as Paris St-Germain.
Keeping either player beyond current deals will prove even more difficult if Chelsea fail to qualify for next season’s Champions League. They are now five points behind fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur.
Marcos Alonso believes the players must solve their “attitude problem”.
Alonso said: “I think it’s an attitude problem and we have to make things clearer and improve quickly because we want to be in the top four.” (© Daily Telegraph, London)