Hazard vs Salah: Is Chelsea’s superstar better than Liverpool’s Egyptian pharaoh?
Mohamed Salah has torn the Premier League apart this season, but comparisons to his former Chelsea teammate may be premature.
Mohamed Salah netted four goals against Watford at the weekend. The Liverpool winger now has 36 goals across all competitions this season, and his 28 in the league is the all-time third best in a Premier League debut campaign.
But this is just one season. Can Salah have the continued success that his former Chelsea teammate Eden Hazard has had? Hazard has won the Premier League twice during his six seasons at Chelsea, claiming the Player of the Year award in 2015.
The frustrations of Belgian brilliance
Eden Hazard is a tricky subject. The 27-year-old Belgian is the best player in the Premier League on his day, but how often do we see him in that form? It was seen on many occasions during the 2013/14 and 2015/15 campaigns, as Hazard netted 28 goals and recorded 19 assists across the two seasons. His best Premier League outing to date came in a virtuoso performance against Newcastle, netting a hat-trick in the 3-0 win.
Those kind of displays are few and far between for Hazard, however. It hasn’t been a poor season for the Chelsea number 10 this year, but you do get the impression that something isn’t quite right.
When Chelsea were performing well in the league towards the back end of 2017, he looked like he would sign a new deal with the Antonio Conte’s side built around him. In fact, the manager switched to a 5-3-2 to give Hazard a free role due to his impressive form, but things have turned south for the Blues 2018.
Losses to Bournemouth, Watford, both Manchester clubs and exits from the League Cup and Champions League at the hands of Arsenal and Barcelona respectively has caused Chelsea’s season to spiral, and the form of Hazard has diminished.
Conte’s side, who walked the league last season, are outside of the top four, and face a mammoth task to overturn the five-point gap that separates them from the Champions League places.
With this drop off in form, the rumour mill surrounding Hazard has accelerated with Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain reportedly queuing up for the winger.
The atmosphere at Stamford Bridge indicates even an FA Cup victory at the end of the season wouldn’t save his future; a top-four finish just might.
Salah’s special season
Whereas Hazard has perhaps had a hot-and-cold campaign, Mohamed Salah has been straight fire.
The 25-year-old took no time to get settled at Liverpool, scoring on debut against Watford, and strikes against, Arsenal, Burnley and Leicester soon followed. Right winger Salah hasn’t gone more than two games without scoring all season.
His superb quartet against the Hornets last weekend has come after netting four Premier League braces this season, and he is on course to have the greatest PL debut season in history.
Salah’s 28 goals is six behind Andy Cole’s 34 at Newcastle in 1993/94, and that was back in a time where there were 42 games in a Premier League season.
With seven games to go, Salah will come close if not usurp that record, with the goal involvement record (goals and assists) close to a formality. Salah has been directly involved in 38 Liverpool Premier League goals this season, chasing Cole’s 47.
Look around you
Perhaps the difference between Hazard’s and Salah’s fortunes is the teams they are playing in. If you look at Hazard’s three best seasons at Chelsea, in two of those he had an in form striker to link up with, Diego Costa.
In his second campaign at the club, Hazard was Chelsea’s top scorer with 14 in the league, and although he didn’t have a forward to play off, this was an untraditional Jose Mourinho side.
With no reliable striker (Mourinho’s options in attack were Samuel Eto’o, Demba Ba and Fernando Torres), the work had to be done behind the front man. Mourinho utilised the likes of Andre Schurrle, Willian, Oscar and Frank Lampard as well as Hazard to unsettle defences.
A year later, Hazard hit his stride. With Diego Costa arriving in the summer, Chelsea had all the weapons to win the Premier League title, and they did. Hazard scored 19 across all competitions and picked up 13 assists as the Blues were on their way to competing with the best in world.
Cue Mourinho third season syndrome. As ‘The Special One’ built this side in his image, he began to stifle a fantastic Chelsea side and they would go on to finish 10th in the Premier League. Mourinho was sacked with the club lurking dangerously close to the relegation zone during the campaign.
A toxic atmosphere was reported around the training ground, but after Mourinho’s departure Chelsea found their form.
Hazard had a woeful season, scoring just six goals in all competitions, but his superb solo effort to deny Tottenham any chance of the Premier League title in 2016 showed that form is temporary, class is permanent.
If you play to the Belgian’s strengths, he can be the catalyst to your team. Antonio Conte did exactly that, utilising the 5-2-3 formation to perfection last season, allowing Chelsea to pick and choose whether to counter-attack or build the play up slowly. A second Premier League crown followed for Hazard, but this season it changed.
Diego Costa left in the summer, and Alvaro Morata was deemed a perfect replacement. Although not as bullish as Costa, Morata can run in behind, hold the ball up, dribble and head the ball making him a great acquisition.
His start to life at Chelsea was brilliant, netting 12 goals in the first half of the season, but form and fitness dwindled, leaving the club and teammate Hazard without a focal point.
Whilst Chelsea need a man to lead the line, it’s the opposite at Anfield.
At the start of the season, many wondered how Jurgen Klopp would fit the ‘Fab Four’ into the same team. New arrival Salah or the inconsistent Sadio Mane would perhaps be the one to miss out not Brazilian pairing Roberto Firmino or Philippe Coutinho.
Klopp attempted to shoehorn all four into his starting lineup, but Liverpool’s already flaky defence suffered even more.
Liverpool were fourth in the table at Christmas, four points behind Chelsea, but since the departure of Coutinho, they have become more balanced, and in all a stronger side. The Reds may only be in the third due to their game in hand, but they are seven points clear of Conte’s Blues.
Having more discipline in midfield has allowed the attacking trio of Salah, Firmino and Mane to wreak havoc on their opponents, with all three performing Klopp’s gegenpress perfectly. With no conventional striker, unlike Chelsea, the team shape is not vital, as you know that if you drift out of position, a player with heaps of energy will fill in, and press the opponent.
This perhaps explain why Salah wasn’t a success at Chelsea. Jose Mourinho was the manager during Salah’s short stint at Stamford Bridge, and with defensive discipline and structure paramount in a Mourinho side, it was never going to work.
So… what’s the verdict?
There is no question about it, at this moment in time Mohamed Salah is a better player than Eden Hazard. Salah’s four goals last weekend now make him the favourite to win the Premier League Player of the Year which would match one of Hazard’s accolades.
One season doesn’t make the player, however. Yes, Salah cannot be labelled a one season wonder due to his 34 goals over two seasons at Roma, but he still has some way to go to be regarded as one of the best on the planet.
The Egyptian has been likened to Lionel Messi this season, but he needs to maintain his level for a long period of time like Messi and Ronaldo to be mentioned in the same breath as the Ballon d’Or winners.
Hazard, who has been around the block a little longer than Salah, has struggled for consistency, but there is this bounce-back ability that must be admired.
He tore up Ligue 1 with Lille, scoring 20 goals and recording 18 assists as they won the title, and after a settling in period at Chelsea he emerged as one of the league’s best.
A bad spell came in 2015/16, but he fought back and secured a spot in the Premier League Team of the Year last season.
Can Salah be better than Hazard? Yes. Can he currently be regarded as superior to the Belgian? No.
Who is the better player? Let us know in the comments section below.