Eden Hazard's Chelsea future: Potential signings to replace him
Cardiff host Chelsea live on Sky Sports Premier League this Sunday
By Adam Bate
Last Updated: 28/03/19 6:32pm
Even if Chelsea's transfer ban is delayed, who could they find to replace Eden Hazard? We take a look with the help of the data scientists at Football Whispers...
Eden Hazard's prospective move to Real Madrid has long been mooted and with his contract up in the summer of 2020, there is a growing feeling that it is now beyond Chelsea's control. With the club once again struggling to secure Champions League football, they need to make contingency plans. It is a tricky situation that is exacerbated by several other factors.
If Chelsea's transfer ban is enforced then even the option to replace Hazard could be taken out of their hands and certainly complicates things for the Belgian. Callum Hudson-Odoi would be the obvious player to bring through but with his own future uncertain, even the natural replacement already on the books at Stamford Bridge might be on his way out.
Christian Pulisic arrives in the summer. That will help. But if Chelsea are given the opportunity to further bolster their squad, they will be keen to do so given that Hazard remains as vital as ever to this team. Going into the game against Cardiff, live on Sky Sports this Sunday, he has scored 13 and assisted 11 Premier League goals this season.
So who should they be targeting? Chelsea's scouts will have many players to assess but they are likely to use analytics to narrow down the search. Using the analysis tools created by the data scientists at Football Whispers can help us to do just that by identifying potential signings who could best fill the void left by Hazard. Here's how it works…
By plotting a scatter graph based on two factors - the performance level of the players and the similarity of their style - it is possible to establish those individuals whose actions are most like Hazard. This gives us a list of names of the players who could potentially bring similar qualities to the Chelsea team. It is a good starting point for the discussion.
Of course, there are those players who are out of reach. The third most similar player to Hazard is some chap by the name of Lionel Messi.
Good luck getting him.
At the other end of the spectrum, Cristian Tello, the former Barcelona winger, is enjoying a bit of a revival at Real Betis and is stylistically similar. But he is not performing at a level that will encourage Chelsea that the potential for further improvement is there at the age of 27.
Also among the list thrown up by the data are Neymar, another who is out of reach, and Hazard's Chelsea team-mate Pedro. It is positive to see them included as they pass the sense test. After all, Pedro is being asked to do similar things to Hazard, albeit not to the same standard. But there are some other options out there that are more intriguing…
Napoli's Lorenzo Insigne is one of the few players in Europe performing at a level similar to Hazard. He has scored nine goals and assisted six in Serie A this season but his underlying numbers are better than that. He ranks third in Italy for shots and fifth for chances created.
Stylistically, he has a slightly different approach to Hazard but perhaps that would not be a deal breaker for Maurizio Sarri. The Chelsea coach worked with Insigne in Naples and may be of the view that the player is someone who would bring different qualities to the team.
Chelsea appeal date set
The date for Chelsea's hearing on their transfer ban has been scheduled for April 11, Sky Sports News understands.
If the club are looking for younger players - Insigne is 27 - the statistics do point Chelsea in the direction of a couple of very talented younger players too. Both are 22 and both, interestingly, have already been linked with a move to Chelsea before now…
Julian Brandt of Bayer Leverkusen is an exciting wing option who is highly rated in Germany, having been selected ahead of Leroy Sane for the World Cup last summer. He was reportedly a target for Chelsea as a teenager and has made great progress since then.
He has four goals and nine assists in the Bundesliga season, ranking second in the competition for chances created. It has also been suggested that he could be an alternative option for Bayern Munich if they are unable to persuade Hudson-Odoi to move to Bavaria.
Chelsea refusing to sell?
Andreas Christensen claims Chelsea are refusing to sell any of their players this summer with a transfer ban hanging over the club's head.
The other player who could be of interest is David Neres of Ajax.
The Brazilian is in his second season as a regular in the Eredivisie and has made a big impact with five goals and eight assists this term, despite sometimes being used from the bench. Indeed, he is providing an assist more regularly than any other player to have played as many minutes as he has in the competition this season.
Neres is a left footer who is versatile but has been playing mainly on the right. He is also well known to Chelsea as their veteran transfer adviser, Piet de Visser, is on record as saying that they were "very fond of him" but felt Ajax was better for the player's development.
Finding someone to fill Hazard's shoes is an impossible task made bitter-sweet by the fact that Hudson-Odoi could yet be following him out the door. The best options are hugely expensive and difficult to attract. Anyone outside that bracket is a gamble.
But there are some names out there - players who, statistically, are a more obvious fit than Pulisic. Chelsea would be well advised to be looking at them if they are going to find a way to manoeuvre their way through the challenges that are to come.