Mykhaylo Mudryk on Hazard-ous ground at Chelsea as ‘slams’ and ‘blasts’ arrive

Will Ford
Chelsea winger Mykhaylo Mudryk puts his hands on his hips

The knives are out for Mykhaylo Mudryk after 334 minutes of football for Chelsea. Someone should tell him how low the bar is…

The ‘cursed No.9 shirt’ is a common topic at Chelsea. Their inability to sign a goalscorer is extraordinary for a club of Chelsea’s size – as irritating for the fans as it is funny for their rivals. The longer they go without one, the more it’s discussed, the more pressure placed on the shoulders of the next ill-fated soul.

But the hex isn’t fussy; it’s not laterally bound at Chelsea. The midfield and defence is broadly immune – there have been more hits than misses – but the evil eye fixes on newly acquired forwards seemingly from the moment they arrive at Cobham until they’re stared out the door. Strikers, second strikers and wingers (inverted or otherwise) arrive with huge reputations which diminish steadily, or in some cases very quickly, in line with their confidence levels.

Chelsea is the pinnacle for any forward that arrives. Not in the sense that they achieve wonderful things, feel at home and would never want to go elsewhere, but in the sense that once they arrive at Chelsea, no team at Chelsea’s level or above would want to sign what’s left of them. Eden Hazard was the last forward Chelsea bought who thrived before being filched by a big club.

They’ve had variations on that theme. Willian, bought the year after Hazard in 2013, was an undoubted success at Stamford Bridge and many top teams would have loved him in their team at his peak – he just felt he had no reason to leave. Diego Costa was brilliant before he was forced out by Antonio Conte. Many would say Pedro was a hit, others would argue in favour of Kai Havertz. But that’s still a low hit rate across a decade. The path to obscurity is well-trodden by comparison.

Mykhaylo Mudryk isn’t yet on that path. The headline ‘slams’ and ‘blasts’ are cropping up more and more as the familiar Chelsea forward negativity takes hold. But despite that sensational click-baiting and goading of rival fans, 334 minutes of football is not enough to call for the holy water, particularly when after the first 35 minutes – his debut from the bench against Liverpool – people were suggesting Chelsea had struck gold.

“It was very Hazard-like, one of the greatest players we’ve seen in the Premier League and one of the best Chelsea players we’ve seen, Eden Hazard,” said Jamie Carragher after Mudryk’s debut.

“Picking the ball up in those positions, that low centre of gravity. That blistering pace and what he’s going to do to defenders, I think he’s going to be an absolute nightmare.”

That’s part of the problem – the comparison does Mudryk no favours. Similar claims were made when Christian Pulisic arrived, while others have been similarly burdened with filling the Hazard-shaped hole.

It’s impossible. It’s like Arsenal trying to sign the new Thierry Henry or Manchester United chasing another Cristiano Ronaldo. Hazard was unique; Chelsea may never acquire a more gifted footballer.

Mudryk needs to forge a different path at Chelsea. Not Hazard’s path, or the one ending in misery, which players inevitably drift towards if they start down the Hazard path. Because Chelsea don’t need a Hazard – they would welcome a forward with just half his impact on the club.

They’re desperate to the point of thinking Joao Felix – he of two goals and no assists in nine games – is the answer to their problems. Mudryk is actually in a favourable position because the bar for success among Chelsea forwards has never been lower.

Whether it’s weighing on his mind or not, it would pay for someone to tell Mudryk he doesn’t need to be Hazard, and that he doesn’t need to do much at all to be adored by the Chelsea fans.

All they yearn for is a player who will get slightly more than the odd goal and assist, and occasionally get them on their feet. That’s not too much to ask of someone with Mudryk’s unquestionable ability.