Eden Hazard is arguably the only man in the Chelsea team who has made the difference between qualification to the 2019/20 Champions League, and a disaster culminating in yet another managerial casualty at Stamford Bridge.
Though Chelsea are assured of dining once more at Europe’s top table, there are many rumors linking the Belgian play-maker to a Real Madrid switch, and to say he would be missed by Chelsea is an understatement.
For what they are worth, Hazard’s Fantasy Premier League stats speak volumes. His overall numbers stand second only to Mo Salah, and he went into the final Premier League weekend with a chance of making it onto the podium in the top scorer charts. By the same point, he also stood as the top maker of assists in the league.
‘Irreplaceable’ is the only possible way Hazard can be described, but – provided that any of Chelsea’s future appeals against the existing transfer ban are successful – there are five men who could do much to help the Stamford Bridge faithful forget their (for now hypothetical) loss.
#1 – Leroy Sané
Pep Guardiola has enjoyed another stellar season at the Etihad Stadium, breaching the 95-point mark for the second season in succession, just 14 years after Chelsea set that once-unreachable threshold. However, Leroy Sane may not be sharing the joy as much as his teammates.
Of course, Sané needs no introduction to Premier League followers, and his already-great sense of vision and tireless work rate will only improve with time. The only question is, what Sarri can offer that Guardiola can’t.
The young German dynamo has often been deployed as an impact sub this spring, but that may not be enough for him in the long-term, even if this is a part of Guardiola’s greater game management plans. He would undeniably waltz into the current Chelsea XI, but this is best described as the ‘nuclear option’.
#2 – James Maddison
A revelation after joining Leicester for a princely sum from Norwich, Maddison has proven more than capable of making the transition between leagues. A creative influence with great technical ability, he has worked exceptionally well alongside a pacy predator in the form of Jamie Vardy.
Ultimately, a designated outright striker of peak age – not Olivier Giroud – would also be needed to make this work, but the excitement surrounding Maddison is growing with every season.
#3 – Hakim Ziyech
On sites where sports spread betting is a popular option, many people were putting a cheeky, lower-risk flutter on Ajax to be crowned shock winners of the Champions League.
Much of that was down to the form of Moroccan international Ziyech, who was one of the standout players of the tournament before the Amsterdam club’s late heartbreak on Wednesday night.
Like Hazard, he boasts an excellent sense of positioning, making all of the necessary off-ball movements to keep his team in a dominant position.
As an added bonus, he can play on both sides of the pitch, and although Sarri would have to make some significant changes to the setup if he is to be Hazard’s direct replacement, he would be worth the hassle on the evidence of this season.
Ziyech also has the ability to drift inward and become a support striker when the situation demands.
#4 – Richarlison
Richarlison was first linked to a switch from Goodison Park back in December. If the Brazilian’s head is to be turned by a better payday and promises of trips to Juventus and Barcelona, then Stamford Bridge could be his next destination.
Thriving under the stewardship of Marco Silva at Goodison Park, Richarlison has been deployed upfront and as an advanced winger. Prior to Everton’s spring improvement, he cut an erratic figure, but even when off form, he has poached some vital goals for the Toffees.
A cash plus player deal, with revelatory defender Kurt Zouma going in the opposite direction, is a potential option for Sarri and Silva to consider.
#5 – Nabil Fekir
Lyon has enjoyed another strong season, with one particular highlight being their 2-1 victory at the Etihad Stadium in the Champions’ League group stage.
The driving force behind Lyon’s reputation has once again been Fekir, who is just as effective in a ‘number ten’ role as he is upfront. He is approaching the prime of his career and remains a huge target for Premier League clubs.
Fekir covers a lot of ground during games, and this combines lethally with his good sense of shooting range. Discipline has been cited as an occasional issue, but the sort of passion he boasts has been lacking on occasion in the Chelsea ranks this season.
Liverpool came close to signing him on two occasions, but where the Reds failed, Sarri can offer a new type of project. That project promises a more equal playing field with peers in the top-six, enabled by Champions League football – provided that fate grants the West London club the opportunity to sign new players in due course.