After breaking the record for the longest unbeaten run as a new Premier League manager, things have stalled a little for Maurizio Sarri at Chelsea.
A run of just six wins in 13 Premier League games has seen the Londoners slip from potential title dark-horses to scrapping for that fourth and final Champions League spot, placing intense scrutiny on Sarri’s style of play, which is often referred to as ‘Sarri-ball’ or ‘Sarrismo’.
Midfield playmaker, Jorginho, has been put under the microscope recently and the Italian is a key figure in Sarri’s plan.
However, the former Napoli boss may have a bigger problem on the horizon with Eden Hazard reportedly seeking a move away from Stamford Bridge at the end of the season, with the 28-year-old being heavily linked with a move to Real Madrid to finally replace Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Belgian dynamo has more goals (12), assists (10) and chances created (65) than any other Chelsea player in the Premier League this season and his attacking contribution is paramount.
Sarri is keen to retain Hazard’s services but has admitted that he may be powerless to prevent his talisman from turning down the bright lights of the Bernabeu.
The Italian told Calciomercato: “Eden is 28. If he wants to go, I think he has to do it, even if I wish the opposite, he has the potential to be the number one in Europe.”
One man rumoured to be a potential replacement for Hazard, should he leave, is Barcelona’s Philippe Coutinho.
The Brazilian enjoyed a great start to life with the Blaugrana following his £140m move in January 2018 but has struggled somewhat this season, contributing just eight goals and five assists in 32 appearances.
So, could Coutinho find redemption by replacing Hazard at Stamford Bridge as the attacking linchpin in the Sarri-ball system?
Here at Squawka, we’ve taken a look at what the 26-year-old could offer as Chelsea’s Hazard replacement.
One of the best sights in Premier League football right now is Hazard picking up the ball in a wide left position and then giving that death stare at the centre-backs as he comes racing inside.
The defenders back off and crumble in fear, while Hazard glides past them and hammers home into the top corner. It looks so simple – yet so beautiful and inevitable – and would be sorely missed should Hazard leave Stamford Bridge.
Luckily for Chelsea, should they explore the Coutinho option, that is also the Brazilian’s favourite game.
During his time with Liverpool, Coutinho would consistently hug the left touchline before driving inside with the ball and delivering the footballing equivalent of an Exocet Missile into the far corner.
In fact, Coutinho finished last season with the most Premier League goals scored from outside the box (4) of any Liverpool player, despite going off to sunny Spain in January.
He may not have the same unerring pace of Hazard, but Coutinho doesn’t lack any of the direct power that the Belgian possesses.
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As previously mentioned, Hazard is Chelsea’s No.1 creator at the moment, with the Belgium international having 144 touches in the opposition box in the Premier League so far this season – by far the most at the club – and only adds weight to the aforementioned goals and assists.
Take Hazard away and you lose a direct contribution to 22 of Chelsea’s 45 league goals this season but, again, Coutinho can step into this role.
Coutinho created 3.23 chances per 90 minutes for Liverpool in the Premier League last season, the most of any player to make three or more appearances, and originally arrived at the club in 2013 as an outright No.10.
The former Inter playmaker has a great eye for a killer pass and can whip in one hell of a cross, helping him to provide eight assists in La Liga and the Champions League for Barcelona upon his arrival in the second half of last season.
His varied skill set means that the likes of Jurgen Klopp, Ernesto Valverde and Tite have often give Coutinho a free role, allowing him to shift between his wide left position and a central berth.
This lack of tactical responsibility allows him to pick up spaces that other players just wouldn’t be able to find and unlocks his spectacular creative side.
Talisman and poster boy
The signing of a 45-time, £140m Brazil international is enough to send any football fan into delirium, even if that would mean they’ve lost Eden Hazard.
It has become abundantly clear that Chelsea fans are all-but resigned to losing their little Belgian wing wizard sooner rather than later.
However, if Sarri was to replace him with Coutinho, it would be a real indication of the club’s ambition to keep pushing forward, going a long way to appeasing their fans and giving them a new bright-eyed darling to fawn over.
Not only that, Coutinho possesses the same mercurial, talismanic qualities as Hazard: that ability to pluck a thunderbolt from the abyss, or to leave three defenders in a mangled heap on the floor as he weaves his way through on goal.
When the chips are down, Hazard is inevitably the man his Chelsea colleagues turn to, while Coutinho has had a habit of scoring massive goals at vital moments throughout his career, especially in the Premier League.
Bring in Coutinho and Sarri keeps his ace in the hole; the magic wand with which he can pluck a seemingly impossible rabbit out of the hat.