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Chelsea boss Mauricio Pochettino is hoping to find his own Eden Hazard in his squad by using a page from Jose Mourinho’s playbook. The Argentinian coach has been working hard to try and help Mykhaylo Mudryk settle into life in the Premier League after handing the £88million forward starts in the last two games, as he looks to unlock the Ukrainian’s potential at Stamford Bridge.
The former Shakhtar Donetsk star has found it tough going since his big-money move to west London in January, failing to score in 23 appearances and providing only two assists. Fans of rival clubs have made Mudryk the butt of their jokes, but Pochettino is determined to make a success of the youngster.
Perhaps that is why he has engaged in giving one-to-one training to assist him in improving his confidence in front of goal after finding the move from Ukraine to England a difficult step, both culturally and in football terms. It is something Hazard also struggled with when the Belgian moved to Chelsea as a 21-year-old, but with help from Rafa Benitez at first and then Mourinho, he turned things around.
It is easily forgotten because Hazard, in his seven seasons at Stamford Bridge, became everything Chelsea hoped he would be after signing him from Lille for £32m in July 2012. But in the first 12 months in west London, there were some bumps along the road for Hazard, which Mourinho tried to iron out when he returned to the club in 2013.
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Not least, his first red card for kicking a ballboy at Swansea earned him a reputation that he wanted to shake off. Away from the pitch, he was distracted and immature and, worst of all, infuriating his manager.
Mourinho dropped Hazard for a Premier League match when he forgot the time of a training session and held a grudge against the winger for leaving his passport behind for a European fixture. Suffice to say, Hazard learned the hard way that he couldn’t repeat them.
Hazard was undoubtedly talented, but his skills centred around him being an individual leading the team with his natural ability. At Lille, that suited him because Lille needed him to take on that role as their chief creator and goalscorer. But at Chelsea, he was one of several big names and had to play his part in furthering the team’s cause, just like everyone else.
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Under Mourinho, that meant tracking back, running off the ball to close down the opposition and making decoy runs to confuse defenders, even if it meant not getting the ball. It took some time to ingrain his methods into Hazard, but the Portuguese eventually got the world-class star he had been looking for.
By the end of Chelsea’s 2014-15 title-winning season, Hazard had notched 19 goals in 52 appearances in all competitions – 14 in 34 in the Premier League. But the effort he had put into becoming an all-round winger, who was now trusted to track back and help out defensively, proved to Mourinho he could be a team player – in addition to being an incredibly-gifted one.
He took Hazard under his wing when he desperately needed to take his ability to the next level – and that is what Pochettino is doing now with Mudryk. Taking a leaf out of the Mourinho playbook, he has concocted a crossbar challenge game with the Ukrainian to help him enjoy his football again, and the Argentinian believes it can help improve his confidence to end his goal drought.
The signs would suggest it’s already working. In his last two starts, Mudryk has shown a remarkable improvement in his spacial awareness and, while he hasn’t contributed a goal or assist, he is edging ever closer to opening his account for the club. Against Brighton, he was given a standing ovation from the Chelsea fans after an impressive display as he was substituted – and Pochettino’s embrace when he walked off said everything about his attempts to encourage Mudryk.
Chelsea have been waiting four years to find their next Hazard after he left for Real Madrid. Christian Pulisic wasn’t it, neither was Callum Hudson-Odoi or even Timo Werner.
But if he can continue improving at his current rate and keep the fans in his corner, with some luck and a lot of hard work, Mudryk could be the leading man for Pochettino for years to come and a Chelsea icon with it.
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