Hazard relishing life in England
Chelsea midfielder Eden Hazard has told L'Equipe he is enjoying his maiden Premier League season and feels English football has taught him to show his prodigious ability more often.
Only Fernando Torres has featured in more top-flight games for the Blues this season than Hazard, while Juan Mata is the sole Chelsea player who can claim to have had a hand in more of the side's Premier League goals.
Hazard's match-winning talent was already in evidence at former club Lille, but the Belgium international believes his switch across the Channel last summer has improved one aspect of his game.
"Consistency. I've not performed well in some matches, very few, but I've never heard: 'Eden played badly'. I've had a lot of good games this year. I thought it would be harder physically, but Ligue 1 isn't bad either in that respect. I get kicked less in the Premier League. They're perhaps more violent though. So now I don't even tackle," he joked. "I'm happy. I play all the time, and that's what I wanted. We'll see if I win trophies, that's the most important thing."
With eight goals and as many assists in his first season in English football, Hazard has already started to justify Chelsea's estimated outlay of €32 million on him.
His statistics suggest he has settled quickly into life at Stamford Bridge, but the two-time Ligue 1 Player of the Year acknowledged he has had to get used to the unique facets of England's national game.
"I've become aware of the intensity. There's no time to rest during a game," he said. "At Lille, there were five or ten minutes when it was calm, when the teams were just knocking the ball around. Here, you're all out for 90 minutes. You mustn't slack off otherwise you concede a goal. That's the biggest difference, along with the fans. They're really into their football, it's impressive."
The same could be said of his compatriots in the stands, who rose as one on Tuesday to salute Hazard after he had scored the only goal of the game to give Belgium a 1-0 victory over Macedonia and keep his nation top of World Cup Qualifying Group A.
The standing ovation he received from the 47,000-strong crowd in Brussels when he was substituted in added time provided proof of the rekindling of a love affair between Hazard and the national team which had struck rocky ground in the past.
"I knew it would come. People expected me to score three goals in every game," Hazard, who publicly fell out with former Belgium coach Georges Leekens, said. "It's great to hear your name chanted. Who wouldn't be touched by that? That was an Eden kind of goal. It's beautiful. I decided the game. The fans expect that of me. I know what I'm capable of and when I've played well."