Chelsea head coach Maurizio Sarri has followed the extraordinary criticism of his players with a less than favourable critique of Eden Hazard.
Hazard, in an interview with France Football this week, spoke about frustrating all his managers, with Sarri laughing when the comments were put to him while praising the Belgian playmaker in one moment and calling on him to do more the next.
Ahead of Thursday’s Carabao Cup semi-final second leg with Tottenham, Sarri was asked if Hazard’s words rang true.
“Sometimes. I prefer him when he speaks with his feet,” the 60-year-old Italian said.
“The potential is higher than the performances, I think. He has to respect, first of all, himself. He has to do more.”
Sarri rebuked his squad following last Saturday’s Premier League loss to Arsenal, saying “this group of players are extremely difficult to motivate”, and hinted at a lack of leadership.
Hazard is Belgium’s captain and has almost single-handedly propelled Chelsea to points this season, with 10 Premier League goals and 10 assists.
But Sarri, who has deployed Hazard as a ‘false nine’ of late to reduce the forward’s defensive responsibilities, questioned his team ethic.
“Eden is at the moment a wonderful player, but he’s an individual player. He’s a very instinctive player,” he added.
“He’s very important for us, of course, because he’s a great player. He always can win the match in two minutes, sometimes in one minute, but at the moment he’s not a leader.
“For him it’s very difficult to play only in one position. He wants the ball on the feet.
“For him, I think, it’s very difficult to play as a striker, but it’s very difficult to play also as a winger.
“We have to organise the other 10 players in the defensive phase because he needs to play everywhere on the pitch.”
Hazard remains Chelsea’s talisman, for now. Sarri is not expecting a decision from the 28-year-old over whether to extend his contract, which expires in June 2020, or seek a “dream” move to Real Madrid until the summer.
Sarri added: “He’s not decided yet if he wants to stay here or if he wants a new experience in another club. I don’t know exactly the situation, but I think Eden at the moment doesn’t know the final choice.”
Sarri absolved himself of tactical blame following the loss to Arsenal, saying the attitude was the primary factor in the defeat.
Despite the previous experience of Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte suggesting otherwise, Sarri cannot fathom why his comments after the meek surrender at the Emirates Stadium would generate a negative response.
“I cannot understand why,” Sarri added.
“I said I am in trouble because it’s very difficult to motivate them, but I didn’t want to attack them.
“They are very good boys, with this little problem that I think I can help them (with). But I didn’t want to attack them.
“I have the responsibility also of the mental point of view, so the performance was my fault, of course.
“They agree with me. I discussed with the players after the match, and I said to them the same things as in the press conference.
“It’s not a big problem. I want to be direct with them in private and in public.”
The Blues must overturn a 1-0 first-leg deficit against Spurs to reach the February 24 final against Manchester City, and they will be without new recruit Gonzalo Higuain, whose six-month loan deal was not completed by the 12-noon registration deadline.
Sarri could continue with Hazard as the attacking focal point or select Olivier Giroud.
Alvaro Morata is carrying a calf problem and will not be selected ahead of an anticipated departure to an unnamed club. He has been linked with Atletico Madrid.
“From the physical and technical point of view, he is a very good player and suitable for my football,” Sarri said.
“But Morata, one month ago, said he wanted to play in another team. So it was really very difficult for him to give us 100 per cent.”