London: Eden Hazard is prepared to keep Chelsea sweating on his future until the summer as he waits to find out if Real Madrid will make him their No. 1 transfer target.
And Hazard has put pressure on Chelsea to solve their striker crisis in the January transfer window by revealing he does not want to become a permanent false nine. Chelsea are looking at a range of options and have been working on a potential deal in which they take over Gonzalo Higuain’s loan from Juventus to AC Milan, with Alvaro Morata moving to Milan on a temporary basis.
Hazard became Chelsea’s latest centurion with two goals in the victory against Watford, which meant he has netted three times in four games since being asked to play as a false nine while Morata has been missing.
The Belgian raised hopes among Chelsea supporters that he is ready to sign a new contract by declaring after the Vicarage Road win that he wanted to become a club legend “like Lampard, Terry and Drogba”.
But asked later whether that meant he was now preparing to commit his long-term future to Chelsea, Hazard replied: “I am just focused on the pitch. I will see at the end of the season.”
With a new deal worth well over 300,000 pounds a week on the table, Chelsea will push Hazard to make a decision sooner than the summer, when he will only have 12 months remaining on his current contract.
The 27-year-old’s advisers were in London this month, but Chelsea know that their best chance of keeping Hazard is if Real prioritise one of their other major targets. Real are also interested in Paris St-Germain pair Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, but neither of those players are close to the end of their respective contracts.
What happens in the January transfer window could play a major part in whether Chelsea can convince Hazard to give up on his dream of playing for Real.
Hazard has reaffirmed the fact that he does not believe the false nine is his best position and wants to move back out to the left flank. He could get his wish at the weekend if injuries to Pedro and Callum Hudson-Odoi leave Chelsea head coach Maurizio Sarri with no option but to bring in Olivier Giroud.
But Hazard may have to wait to see if Chelsea can sign Higuain, or another striker, before being sure of where he will play the majority of the second half of the season.
Asked whether he gets more chances to score playing through the middle, Hazard replied: “Yeah, but my position is winger. I feel better as a winger. The manager chooses where to put me on the pitch and then I try to do my best.”
Hazard’s recent switch into the middle has drawn comparisons with his compatriot Dries Mertens, who was successfully converted by Sarri while he was in charge of Napoli. But Hazard made it clear he has no intention of making a -permanent position change, saying Mertens was more suited to the role.
“Dries is more of a striker than me. I am more like a playmaker.”
Hazard disagreed with one journalist who suggested his goals through the middle could help him eclipse his 2014-15 season, when he was voted the Player of the Year.
Hazard, who finished that season with 19 goals for Chelsea and already has 12 this term in all competitions, said: “I score more goals, but I don’t feel I play better.”
Sarri even opted to keep Hazard through the middle against Watford when Pedro was forced off with a hamstring injury, instead sending on Hudson-Odoi.
But the 18-year-old was also forced off with a hamstring issue, which gives Sarri a headache ahead the trip to Crystal Palace. Ruben Loftus-Cheek missed the game at Vicarage Road, but could replace Pedro if he is fit, otherwise Sarri may have to bring in Giroud and restore Hazard to the left with Willian on the right.
Other than Higuain, Chelsea have considered Nabil Fekir, Callum Wilson and Jamie Vardy as targets.