Football: Sarri will rely on Hazard

Chelsea midfielder Eden Hazard taking on Bournemouth defender Nathan Ake (right) and midfielder Charlie Daniels in their English League Cup quarter-final on Wednesday. The Belgian netted the only goal of the encounter at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea midfielder Eden Hazard taking on Bournemouth defender Nathan Ake (right) and midfielder Charlie Daniels in their English League Cup quarter-final on Wednesday. The Belgian netted the only goal of the encounter at Stamford Bridge.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

With Giroud and Morata having lean spells, Blues boss will give him free rein up front

LONDON • Given the travails of Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata - the misfiring duo have scored only one and five Premier League goals respectively this season - it is no wonder Maurizio Sarri is hoping Eden Hazard can continue to flourish in the "false nine" position.

The Belgium international fired Chelsea into the League Cup semi-finals on Wednesday after replacing the ineffective Giroud and he also excelled in that role in their last league game at Brighton.

With the 27-year-old arguably having his best season in a Blues shirt - he has been involved in 18 league goals in 17 games, two more than the whole of last term - Hazard is again expected to lead the attack against Leicester today.

Despite his complaints when asked to operate there under former Chelsea manager Antonio Conte, Sarri believes his star forward is so versatile that there "isn't a best position" for him.

At his pre-match press conference yesterday, he said: "Hazard is a wonderful player with a very high level of imagination. He needs to be let free on the pitch. So there isn't a 'right' position for him."

The Italian, however, shot down speculation that he was looking to bring in more attacking reinforcements to Stamford Bridge in the January transfer window.

The 59-year-old refused to comment on rumours that he wanted on-loan AC Milan striker Gonzalo Higuain, his former player at Napoli, and batted away a question that linked Bournemouth's Callum Wilson with a move next month.

Hinting Hazard would continue to plough a lone furrow up front, he said: "I don't know about Wilson. (Cherries boss) Eddie (Howe) is a friend and I want to see him happy.

"We started two matches (with) Hazard as a striker. I wanted to see the solution to work in other situations so I need two or three matches to see it.

"I explained the point of view to Giroud, then we will see. We played a good match against (Manchester) City and, against Brighton, we were dangerous for 60 minutes.

"Then it was a different match, more physical. We lowered the level of application. We need to avoid this (in the Foxes game) as we have to think to kill the match."

Chelsea have several former Leicester players in their ranks, including N'Golo Kante, but one player who will likely be denied a reunion with his former club is Danny Drinkwater.

The England midfielder has yet to play this season, and Sarri all but declared his availability, adding that "his problem is my football".

Despite being eight points off the top, the Chelsea boss played down suggestions his players were still in the hunt, insisting he had never seen them as "contenders" as Liverpool and City were "two teams a step ahead of us".

Sarri also expressed his sympathy at Mourinho's sacking as Manchester United boss in midweek.

While his predecessor Conte had a much-publicised frosty relationship, Sarri enjoyed a far more amiable bond with the Portuguese.

Declaring his "like for him as a coach and person", he expressed his desire to see Mourinho back "on a bench as soon as possible" before joking as long it was "not here (at Chelsea)".

REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 22, 2018, with the headline 'Sarri will rely on Hazard'. Print Edition | Subscribe