Constant rumours continue to link Eden Hazard with a move to Real Madrid, and the Belgian has yet again spoken on the matter. A big-money switch to the capital of Spain is a real possibility, so who could Chelsea replace Hazard with should he complete the move?
Speaking to France Football on Monday, Hazard’s quotes sent Blues fans into both fear and optimism.
“It’s different, but still Real,” he said when questioned about former Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane. “If he goes to Manchester tomorrow, for instance, I won’t be going there.”
He added: “I have always wanted to explore something different after England. I have won everything here, but that doesn’t mean I’m leaving.”
As always when Hazard is asked about Real Madrid, his quotes are somewhat confusing and many fans would rather he stay tight-lipped on the situation. No one is quite sure whether the 28-year-old is flirting with Los Blancos or having a bit of fun with the media. Either way, Chelsea may have to replace the Belgian in the summer, and here are a few options they may consider.
A big surprise, I know. Napoli winger Lorenzo Insigne is a long-term target of Chelsea along with a cluster of other European heavyweights. Predominantly playing on the left a front three, Insigne is well-known for his quick feet, low centre of gravity and his ability to drift infield and find the back of the net from an angle. Coutinho-esque, if you will.
The 27-year-old has been a Napoli player since 2010 and first made a name for himself when he was sent on loan to Pescara in Serie B for the 2011/12 campaign. He netted 18 league goals in 37 games and was integrated into his parent club’s side the following season.
Since then, the Italian has scored at a rate of one in every four league games for Napoli; 55 goals in total. His goal contribution is very consistent, especially when he worked under current Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri between 2015 and 2018. Insigne reached double figures for goals and assists in all three seasons under Sarri, including an impressive 32 goal contributions in the 2016/17 campaign.
Due to previously working under the Chelsea manager, Insigne would fit the “Sarri-ball” system well and would not need time to adjust to the demanding style of play. He could, however, struggle with the physicality of the Premier League due to his extreme lack of height. Insigne stands at just 5’4 tall which could be the reason he is yet to get his big-money move to a club in England.
Sarri is a huge fan of the little Italian and in October named him as the best Italian player in the world.
“Insigne is the best Italian player right now,” Sarri told Football Italia, “after Insigne I’d put Federico Bernadeschi. I’ll add Federico Chiesa in third.”
However, according to The Guardian, the Napoli winger could cost Chelsea up to £178m after a verbal release clause was agreed between the two parties.
Out-of-favour Real Madrid playmaker Isco has been linked with a move to Stamford Bridge in recent weeks. The Daily Mail reported in December that the Blues were willing to make a £70m bid for the Spaniard to tempt him out of the Bernabéu.
Although he is predominantly a midfielder, Isco has been known to play as an inside left-forward at both club and international level. Being Spanish and playing for Real Madrid, the 26-year-old is comfortable in a pass-dominant style and is fantastic at linking play together and creating chances from nowhere.
Isco has started just five La Liga games this season and is struggling to prove his worth since Zidane departed the club in the summer. However, Isco has undoubtedly proven himself in previous campaigns and is considered by many to be one of the greatest playmakers in Europe.
His goal contribution is not as frequent as Chelsea fans would like, but playing on the left of a front three would drastically improve his output. 33 goals in 171 league appearances for Real Madrid leaves something to be desired and there would be a vast amount of pressure on him to contribute more, but you do not feature for Los Blancos so heavily if you cannot perform under pressure.
Chelsea have plenty of Spanish speaking players at the club despite Fabregas’ departure earlier this month. Gonzalo Higuaín would add to the list and would make for a warm welcome for Isco should he arrive. Having made 34 appearances for Spain, Isco has regularly played alongside many of the Chelsea squad so would feel at home at the Bridge.
An Hazard-Isco swap deal could be on the cards. If both players are keen on the move then negotiations should be swift, although Chelsea would demand cash as well as the player, and rightly so.
Similar to Isco, Philippe Coutinho has become out-of-favour at Barcelona this season. He signed for the Catalan club 12 months ago and was an integral part of the club’s success in the second half of the campaign, but the Brazilian has lost his way a little since August and could be tempted to kickstart his career again in England.
Coutinho is a lot more familiar with a front three than Isco but can also slip into midfield if required. He operated successfully in Liverpool’s attack so is used to competing with tough defenders in the Premier League and would not need to adapt to the culture or the league.
The 26-year-old has started 11 games in La Liga for Barcelona this season but Ernesto Valverde has favoured natural winger Ousmane Dembélé in recent months which has seen Coutinho be linked with a range of clubs, including Chelsea.
On Sunday, ESPN reported that the Blues have enquired about his availability and are interested in bringing the Brazilian back to England. However, as Coutinho cost Barcelona £142m last January, he would not be cheap. The Spanish Champions would demand the majority of what they paid for him back and have reportedly quoted Chelsea £100m.
As mentioned with Insigne, Coutinho is an expert at cutting in from the left hand side and delivering exquisite finesse shots, in fact many would argue he is the best in Europe at it.
The Brazilian’s output has improved in recent seasons, consistently scoring double figures in all competitions. Although he is a talented goal scorer, Coutinho’s defensive contribution is one of the weaknesses of his game. Sarri demands high intensity from his team and, after his comments following the defeat to Arsenal, it is clear the Chelsea manager accepts nothing less than full commitment to the cause, something Coutinho might not be able to offer.
All three candidates would be ideal in their own ways. Insigne is the most natural in a front three and has worked under Sarri very successfully, Isco is the most experienced at the highest level and could be relatively simple to acquire, and Coutinho has played in the Premier League before and has qualities very similar to Hazard.
If the Belgian leaves the Bridge for the Bernabéu then his replacement would have a lot to live up to, but Chelsea are blessed with options and would be confident of filling his silky boots.
For an in-depth analysis of Hazard’s situation at Chelsea, check out my Echo colleague Terry Sazio’s piece: The Eden Hazard Conundrum.
Written by Liam Wilson.