BY PAUL LAGAN
Eden Hazard shrugs off criticism in the same way as he shrugs off defenders – with a smile. And when his side beats Spurs to get into another cup final, all he can do is smile again.
The thought of linking up with loan striker Gonzalo Higuain makes him, you guessed it – smile once more.
After the Blues’, penalty shoot-out victory over Spurs last night at Stamford Bridge, to book a date next month to face Manchester City in the Carabao Cup final, Hazard said: “I enjoyed it of course. We have gone through to the final so we are just happy. We played a really good game.
“The first half was amazing, one of the best in the season. We controlled the game, we created a lot of chances. We should have scored one or two more goals. But in the end we won.”
That victory on the back of a shabby defeat in the league to Arsenal was one that sums up the Blues inconsistency. Hazard explained: “Everything was different. We also had different players, also the desire to win. “But when you have a bad game you always want to win the next one in front of the fans. We should have done it and we did. But now we have to look in the future and try to play like this again.: Head coach Maurizio Sarri singled Hazard out as not being a leader – Hazard, takes it all in his stride and did not even speak to Sarri about it. “My reaction is to be on the pitch and try to do my best,” he said.
“In the past managers talked about me, this manager has talked about me, the next manager is going to talk about me.
“My target is just to play football. I don’t care what people think. I just want to do my best. Against Tottenham I did, against Arsenal I didn’t of course. But now I look to the future and I will do my best again.
“I don’t have a problem with that (criticism). I don’t have a problem at all. The manager thinks what they want to think, but for me the best response is to be on the pitch and win games.
“When the team is not playing well, the manager has to criticise players. I don’t like to say I’m the best player, but it is always this kind of player who can help the team win the game.
“I’m not focused on what the manager says, I don’t care about that. The manager has to say something and he will say it. We are men, we are big men. We can talk together. There is no problem at all. “I think in the dressing room, all of us, we have almost won everything. We are big players and we know when we are not playing well and when we are playing good. At the end we just need to look in the same way and try to win games, that’s it.”
New striker Gonzalo Higuain was at the match and Hazard is keen to get playing with the Argentinian.
“For me as a winger I like to play with top, top players,” said the mercurial Belgium.
“At Chelsea I was able to play with one of the best in Diego Costa for three years. I think Higuain is one of the best at the moment.
“I also like to play when Olivier was playing and Alvaro. My position is more winger than No 9. I try to have fun with my striker and the other winger. When the striker is there it’s good for me.
“We all know that I like to play the give and go with my striker so if the forward just goes deep, I’m going to be in trouble. “Giroud understands this that is why I like to play with him. We all know that. I think Higuain is going to do the same. Of course he is a fantastic striker, he has scored a lot of goals. When you see his career he has done it everywhere, Madrid, Napoli and Juventus. I think he can do the same here.”
Hazard is hoping that Higuain will hit the ground running. “Yes, I hope so,” he said.
“This season we have been playing good but we missed the guy to score just one goal. We have had a few games where we have played well and didn’t score and in the end we finished with zero goals, even though we created chances. It was like that against Spurs. If we had a striker that could score three goals, the game would have finished 5-1. But that hasn’t been the case. Higuain can do that. He is a top scorer, he can score anywhere.
“When Olivier is playing he is doing his best for the team, but is more of a team player than a striker that just scores goals.
“Diego was sometimes not the kind of player to play a one-two with but in the box was amazing.
“He just scores one goal and if we won, you have three points, so that’s what we need.
“So I think Higuian is this kind of player, he can also link with the winger with the midfield, and he can also be the proper striker.”
Chelsea face Manchester City at Wembley in the final on February 24 – is Hazard looking forward to it? – Of course he is.
“I think it is the best final to play, when you play a final, you want to play against a big team. Last year, we played the FA Cup Final against Manchester United – now we have a final to play against City. We know it will be difficult.
“At the moment they are better than Chelsea, but we won 2-0 here (in the league). The game was not so easy, but we won. So we are Chelsea, we have top players – on the final, everything can happen.”