<
>

Fantasy Premier League: An ode to Eden Hazard

All fantasy soccer managers should give Eden Hazard a round of applause for a sensational season. Getty Images

Eden Hazard is the best player in the Premier League.

While this statement might cause controversy elsewhere, in fantasy it has been inarguably true this season, with the Chelsea man having dominated the ESPN game from post-to-post. In fact, he is the only player in Europe's top five leagues to have both scored 15-plus goals while also assisting on 15-plus other tallies -- and he's delighted to have done so, right? Well, not so much.

He stated earlier this week that he "doesn't care about stats" and that, for him, "the best season is when we are first in the table." That latter part is certainly not from lack of trying on his part, though. At multiple stages throughout the season, it seemed as though Chelsea were either going to miss out on the top-four or sack Maurizio Sarri -- or perhaps both. Yet, with a week to spare, they've already managed to secure themselves Champions League football for 2019-20.

Throughout all the drama, the injuries, a lack of goals from their strikers and everything else under the sun, Hazard has continually delivered fantastic performances. While he may be disappointed that his club have not been chasing the title, by almost any other metric, this has been Hazard's best year in England.

The most obvious barometer for a player's success is in terms of goals and assists and, as mentioned, no one has been as good at both in Europe this season. In fact, Hazard himself has never been as good either. He has been directly involved in 31 goals this season, six more than his previous career-high (both in 2016-17 and 2012-13). Add in the fact that he (No. 4) and teammate Marcos Alonso (No. 6) both rank in the top 10 in "shots off the post," and Hazard could arguably have had even more goal involvements. Given all he has accomplished this season, with one the worst supporting casts that he's ever had at Chelsea (at least in terms of attack), is a testament to just how fantastic Hazard has been this season.

Beyond that, though, he's done far more than just score and set up goals this season -- and a lot of that is thanks to the presence of embattled manager Maurizio Sarri. When the Italian manager made the switch from Napoli in the summer, Chelsea fans were delighted to have captured the signature of a manager known for free-flowing attacking sides which had also been the first genuine threat to Juventus in some time. While never managing to actually topple the Italian giants, his progressive style was seen as a terrific alternative to the stalwart defensive tactics of previous Chelsea manager, Antonio Conte.

While Conte did find success at the club winning both a Premier League and FA Cup trophy, one of his biggest failures was that he never seemed to get the best out of Hazard. Sure, his hand was forced at times due to injuries, or long barren spells from striker Alvaro Morata, but regardless of the reasons, Conte continually played Hazard out of position. This was especially the case in 2017-18 in which the Belgian played on the left in just half of Chelsea's Premier League matches.

Over Hazard's career, 65 percent of his goals (and 13 of his 15 best performances in the ESPN fantasy game) have come while playing on the left wing. This should have been a solid clue as to how he should be used by Conte, but he never quite figured that out. That was Sarri. Since taking charge of the club, Sarri has played Hazard on the left in 29-of-35 league matches and, with his strikers managing just 12 combined goals all season, the Belgian playmaker had to step up to fill that void in attack. Fortunately, Hazard did exactly that by being directly involved in more than half (31) of Chelsea's 57 goals this season.

The underlying stats certainly support this improvement as well with the 28-year-old recording more touches in the box (238) than in any season since 2014-15. Being involved so frequently that high up the pitch has also seen him post career-highs in shots on target (43) and chances created (97), while also being the only player in the Premier League to rank in the top five in those categories (both of which earn points in the ESPN game) this season.

Unsurprisingly, recording that kind of production across the board has seen Hazard record a league-best 628.3 points, and a 17.45 points-per-game average. Barring a 40-plus point performance from Mohamed Salah on Sunday, the season will end with the Chelsea man boasting top honors -- and rightfully so. Hazard has recorded more top-10 performances this season than any other player in the game (6) while also winning his tier an impressive eight times.

It's not just the ceiling that has been high either, as Hazard also posted just 10 single-digit outings all season long, fewer than everyone in his tier except for Christian Eriksen. While the goals and assists are undoubtedly impressive, the biggest step forward for Hazard has been this consistency. For years, the fantasy community was wondering what would happen if Hazard could ever add some level of reliability to his mercurial talent and now we have our answer.

He would be -- and now is -- the best fantasy player in the Premier League.