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Antonio Conte subbed off Eden Hazard at Old Trafford – but was he right to?

The Chelsea boss said taking the team's star player off the pitch with the score level and they immediately conceded

If you’re drawing 1-1 at the marshes on a Sunday and your manager takes off your team’s best player, what’s your reaction?

In most cases it will reduce your side’s danger up front and give the opposition the upper hand as they know the most creative player on the pitch is sitting on the sidelines.


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Man-marking Hazard can’t be fun

Getty - Contributor
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Man-marking Hazard can’t be fun

On Sunday, with Chelsea playing in their second huge game in four days, with the score level at 1-1 Antonio Conte decided to pull Eden Hazard from the game claiming it was a ‘tactical’ decision.

Pedro came on in his place and the thinking appears that the Spaniard’s more energetic defensive work down the flanks would help Chelsea close out the game for a point.

Unfortunately for the Chelsea boss, just two minutes after he made the switch Jesse Lingard was given a free header to put United into the lead.

Icy.

EPA
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Icy.

And as luck would have it for the Italian, it was Pedro’s limp attempt at a tackle on Lukaku which allowed him to find space to cross the ball.

Yes Hazard probably wouldn’t have been in the position to close United’s front man down, but then maybe Antonio Rudiger would have been a bit more forceful in stopping the Belgian.

The Belgian’s quality had dipped in the second half as Conte said his energy was running low but surely it is always better to have your best players on the pitch if available.

Even at 2-1 down Chelsea did have a chance to level it, Alvaro Morata’s chance was disallowed for offside, but with Hazard off the pitch and the industrious Pedro in his place Chelsea lacked the spark that could create something out of nothing.

Let me get that for you sir

Getty - Contributor
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Let me get that for you sir

Even Thibaut Courtois has come out to criticise Conte’s decision.

“I have no explanation for the substitution of Hazard,” Chelsea’s number one told Play Sports.

“I had not expected him to take him off but it is a choice of the manager. He must explain. I can’t look into his head.

“Players like Eden should have 90 minutes on the pitch. He can always bring something extra offensive.”


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Purple patch

AP:Associated Press
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Purple patch

Willian has been Chelsea’s main source of goals in the last week or two, with four in three games, but he needs his Belgian partner to thrive.

Just as at Stamford Bridge against Barcelona, at Old Trafford it was Hazard who set up the Brazilian to put Chelsea in front.

And in both games Hazard’s drawing runs, clever reading of the game and perfectly timed balls put Willian in dangerous positions.

You need them both on Antonio

Reuters
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You need them both on Antonio

Hazard wants to be considered among the world’s best players alongside the likes of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar but to do that he needs a manager that is going to put him at the centre of a team.

Yes Hazard is given a free role at Chelsea, and can adapt into the false nine position we saw against Barcelona but the tactical set up of the team is not centred around the Belgian’s talents like at Real Madrid or PSG.

The difference at those clubs is that you can’t imagine Ernesto Valverde taking Messi off after 70 minutes in El Clasico.

And there would be hell to pay if Zinedine Zidane hooked Ronaldo in a big game.

You will only see Messi being subbed on, not off

Reuters
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You will only see Messi being subbed on, not off

If Hazard is going to reach his potential as one of the best players in the world and possibly be the next Ballon d’Or winner after Messi and Ronaldo then it would seem he needs to be somewhere other than Chelsea.

Is there enough of a French connection to see him at PSG, or is Real Madrid the only invevitability?

Hold on tight Chelsea fans.


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