Blues manager Maurizio Sarri hails Higuain-Hazard partnership

Chelsea's Eden Hazard (centre) celebrates with teammate Gonzalo Higuain after scoring during their English Premier League soccer match at Stamford Bridge, on Feb 2, 2019.
Chelsea's Eden Hazard (centre) celebrates with teammate Gonzalo Higuain after scoring during their English Premier League soccer match at Stamford Bridge, on Feb 2, 2019.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

LONDON • Maurizio Sarri has tried everything this season in a bid to solve Chelsea's scoring woes from persisting with Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata despite their slump in form to playing Eden Hazard as a "false nine".

But, until last month's arrival of Gonzalo Higuain, on loan from Juventus until the end of the season, the Blues' attack has not quite lived up to the fans' expectations of "Sarri-ball".

While the goals have dried up, they have also been conceding at the other end, with Sarri under pressure following their heaviest Premier League defeat for 23 years in a shock 4-0 loss at Bournemouth last Wednesday.

Having suffered two successive losses in the league and sack rumours swirling, the Italian was indebted to Higuain, who opened his Blues account with a brace, and a double from Hazard as the pair inspired the home team to a 5-0 trouncing of rock-bottom Huddersfield on Saturday.

Although the Argentina striker failed to reproduce his best form while on loan at AC Milan earlier this season - scoring only eight goals in 20 appearances - he came to Stamford Bridge at his manager's behest after their successful spell together at Napoli.

And the 31-year-old, on his home league debut, demonstrated why Sarri was desperate for his signature as his presence up front enabled Hazard to return to his preferred position on the flanks, where he is at his most dangerous.

Not only did Chelsea look a far more vibrant team, it was also their biggest win of the season, with David Luiz adding the fifth.

Afterwards, Sarri told reporters he was encouraged by the link-up play between Higuain and Hazard.

He said: " I'm really very happy because apart from the goals, he (Higuain) is really very suitable to play very close to Eden. On the pitch, they are really very suitable to play one close to the other.

"For us, that is very useful. It will be useful for Higuain - he will be able to score goals for us - and also useful for Eden. I know very well that, when he arrived, he wasn't at the top of his physical condition. Now, he is improving."

While it is still early days with the Belgium forward playing only his second game alongside Higuain, there are signs that the budding partnership can flourish.

According to Sky Sports, Hazard found him seven times during the Terriers game - more passes than he has made to Giroud or Morata in any league game this season.

However, with the stinging defeat by the Cherries fresh in his mind, Sarri warned his side that they still needed "to improve the mentality".

He added: "As I said before, we have to arrive at every match with the same level of determination and motivation, and we don't need to lose a match to have the right motivation.

"So, we need to improve. We need to understand that, in the future, we should not have to lose a game to add motivation."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 04, 2019, with the headline 'Blues manager hails Higuain-Hazard partnership'. Subscribe