Take the one man out of what felt a one-man team and the prognosis should be bleak. Not in Chelsea’s case. They have emerged as more prolific and more potent without arguably their greatest player. “Everyone wants an Eden Hazard in the team but we haven’t [got him],” said Frank Lampard.
Real Madrid and £88 million (Dh414.6m) stripped Chelsea of their talisman. If Christian Pulisic’ status as the new signing and his £58m price tag meant he looked the designated successor and his hat-trick in Saturday’s 4-2 win at Burnley was Hazard-esque in its brilliance, the reality is others have chipped in compensate for his departure.
When they face Manchester United on Wednesday, it is a meeting of opposites: United have generally struggled to replace the departed Romelu Lukaku’s goals while Lampard’s side have struck 22 times in their last eight league games.
It feels an unexpected dividend from a departure. “Obviously, there is a transition when you lose a player as impactful as Eden,” the manager said. “He scored or created nearly 50 per cent of our goals last year.”
Hazard scored 16 and created 15 of Chelsea’s 63 league goals. Now they are on course to end this season with 87. “You have to look for where else in our team we can come up with that sort of end product and we do have the players to do it,” Lampard said.
If Mason Mount was the first to demonstrate that, by finding the net in three consecutive games, then it was Tammy Abraham’s turn, as he became the Premier League’s top scorer.
Then it was Pulisic, who marked his first league start for two months with a first career hat-trick. The next may be Callum Hudson-Odoi, whose start to the season was delayed by injury but who is averaging a top-flight assist every 72 minutes.
“We have attacking players that want to score goals,” Lampard said. The numbers underline Chelsea’s capacity to create and score.
Pulisic is averaging either a goal or an assist every 81 minutes, Abraham every 82, Willian every 145, Mount every 172. Marcos Alonso has been involved in one every 167 from left-back while in all competitions, Abraham’s understudy Michy Batshuayi, who also has a Champions League winner at Ajax to his name, has contributed to a goal every 26 minutes.
It speaks of a shared determination to offset Hazard’s loss as well as a group with a variety of attacking weapons. “We are a team that want to move the ball quickly, we want to get the ball into wide areas, sometimes we won’t be able to play through them and at the minute we are scoring goals so we have to continue in that vein,” Lampard said.
If the sense was that Chelsea had one winger last season, now they have five enviable options: Pulisic, Mount, Hudson-Odoi, Willian and Pedro. It is an explanation of Pulisic’s problems when the American struggled to get in the side.
“I didn’t come here expecting everything to be easy and have an easy route and start every game,” said the buy from Borussia Dortmund. “It’s not always that easy.”
But if his assists in cameos against Southampton and Ajax helped him secure a start at Turf Moor, they also illustrated Chelsea’s strength in depth. That ought to stand them in good stead in a Carabao Cup tie where rotation is probable.
It also reduces the reliance on any one individual. It is not merely Chelsea’s new emphasis on youth that makes them the opposite of their former selves.