Feature - Why Sarri-ball misery is driving Eden Hazard into Real Madrid's arms
Isolated and under-utilised on-pitch, Eden Hazard is starting to look more and more like his Chelsea days are numbered. Dan Levene on the likely consequences of the Belgian's creative sacrifice at the hands of Sarri-ball.
Sometimes, in this line of work, you catch an unguarded view of a footballing figure which reveals so much more than any number of press conferences.
May 2010 and, with the sound of celebrations coming out of champions-elect Chelsea's Anfield dressing room, the lonely figure of Joe Cole sat solitary on a step waiting for the club coach.
That summer he would switch Merseyside dressing rooms to the home one: and nobody who caught that moment was surprised when it happened.
This Saturday, just gone, that moment was Eden Hazard's.
There was nothing for Chelsea to celebrate at The Emirates: beaten 2-0, and with boss Maurizio Sarri giving an astonishing press conference in which he questioned the commitment of his players.
But still Hazard's presence, glum-faced and all alone in a blue tracksuit, close to the media exit from Arsenal's stadium, seemed to be down to something more than merely a wrong turn.
Chelsea’s Eden Hazard applauds fans after the final whistle (Nick Potts/PA).PA Sport
Hazard doesn't seem to be enjoying his time under Sarri at Chelsea.
And, for a player so driven by a love of the game, that lack of enjoyment won't help his present employers in their quest to keep him where he is.
The Blues are so dependent on their main creative force, and the oft-repeated claim that 'when Hazard plays, Chelsea play' carries more than a hint of truth.
Of late, he has been most frequently required to play in the central forward role – something born of necessity, which suits neither club nor man.
He is often termed a 'false nine': though the reality is that he is not that form of decoy which lures the defence to create gaps for colleagues; more an actual nine – but one not really equipped to do the work.
Hazard is a player of superlative abilities, when allowed to do his own thing.
But as a striker he all-to-frequently drifts out to wide positions, and leaves the sorts of gaping holes in the opposition box, which saw Chelsea with a target-troubling-free opening 82 minutes at Arsenal.
By playing Hazard as a nine, 'false' or otherwise, means Chelsea are effectively starting each game with nine men.
He can't do the job in hand; and he's also absent from the wide posting where he usually works his magic.
I mention the Emirates corridor image, but it really hasn't taken an expert in body language to see the disenchantment with which Hazard has so frequently ended games while deputising in the striker role.
Eden HazardPA Sport
And, should the expected happen and Real come searching for the man, then that leaves Chelsea with another problem.
There is a school of thought that any regret caused by Hazard's departure would be balanced by the benefit of his incoming fee.
But anyone expecting a Neymar-style King's Ransom will be disappointed.
Come the season's end (Hazard is not expected to move in January), there will only be a single year left on his contract – and that will be the main deciding factor in any fee.
Chelsea will doubtless attempt to maximise their bargaining position; but the reality is that a player with itchy feet and a short contract will always make relatively cheap and easy pickings for a club like Real.
We're not talking pocket change, but equally, this won't be some world-changing sum that enables the rebuilding of the entire squad.
All of this is rather disappointing. After many brilliant performances, Hazard is now at risk of leaving Chelsea with a whimper, not a bang.
And for far less cash than many had hoped.
For Hazard, at least, the hope will be a happier footballing outlook than he present seems to be experiencing.