Maurizio Sarri insists Eden Hazard can thrive in the ‘false nine’ role after the Belgium playmaker inspired Chelsea’s 2-1 win at Brighton on Sunday.
Sarri’s side cemented their grip on fourth place in the Premier League thanks to the latest virtuoso display from Hazard.
Although Hazard started the season playing in a wide role for Chelsea and won the Premier League’s Player of the Month award for September.
But he has been moved to the central striker’s role by Sarri as the Blues boss tries to find a solution to his team’s lack of cutting edge.
Both Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud have struggled for goals when leading the Chelsea attack this season.
And, while Hazard at times doesn’t seem comfortable in his new role, he was still too hot for Brighton to handle, with an assist for Pedro’s opener and a fine finish to double Chelsea’s lead before half-time.
Only a crunching challenge by Brighton’s Dale Stephens slowed Hazard down, but Sarri expects the midfielder to be fit to face Bournemouth in the League Cup quarter-finals on Wednesday.
Asked if will he continue in the false nine role, Sarri said: “I think that, for us, he could be very important in this position.
“He’s very able to come out and play with his team-mates, very able to create spaces. Now I think that, in that position, he has to improve in attacking the box.”
Brighton manager Chris Hughton admitted Hazard is already enough of a danger to most teams, regardless of where he lines up on the pitch.
“Very difficult to stop. He’s a world-class player,” Hughton said.
“When you have that kind of player, it’s very difficult to get close to them. You have to do that as a team, and we got to grips with them better in the second half.”
– Upbeat Blues –
It was a satisfactory end to a difficult week for Chelsea after the alleged racist abuse of Raheem Sterling by a supporter in the 2-0 victory over Manchester City and anti-semitic chanting from travelling fans during the Europa League tie away to Vidi in Hungary.
The Blues remain upbeat thanks to Hazard’s ninth assist of the season and his ninth goal — his first since early October.
After 17 minutes he sped into the penalty area and rolled the ball across goal for Pedro to score.
And when Willian sent Hazard through after picking off a wayward pass by Leon Balogun, he took the ball on before slipping it between Ryan and his near post.
Chelsea endured a nervous finale after Brighton’s Solly March pulled one back with his first goal of the campaign, with Giroud sent on to add height in defence as much as the attack.
“I think we could have won better because we played very well for 60 minutes,” Sarri said.
“We conceded a goal in a moment in which we were in full control of the match, and so, in my mind, it was clear in that moment that we have to suffer in the last five minutes with the long balls into the box.
“We are not a physical team. With the substitutions, I tried to have a more physical impact for the last five minutes, but it was clear it was very difficult in the last five minutes.
“When we have the feeling of being in full control of the match, it’s dangerous for ourselves. Suddenly the level of application and attention is lowered.
“The feeling when we are confident is dangerous for us. Complacency? I don’t know.”