Saturday’s visit to Stamford Bridge is the perfect chance for Salah to wrestle the spotlight back off Hazard
“He’s the best player in the Premier League,” claimed an animated Jamie Carragher, clearly taken aback by the goal he’d just witnessed.
The Liverpool legend had just watched Chelsea’s Eden Hazard slalom away from as many as six challenges before slamming the ball past Simon Mignolet to settle a Carabao Cup tie in his side’s favor late on.
It was another stunning goal for the Belgium international’s growing catalogue and enough for Carragher to label the wing wizard as the finest footballer in the land.
And undoubtedly, Hazard is one of the Premier League’s biggest stars.
His brilliant displays light up the top flight on a regular basis. His almost unique way of dribbling continues to leave defences frazzled after more than six years at Stamford Bridge.
His new manager Maurizio Sarri was suitably impressed.
“[Hazard] is not only one of the best in the Premier League, if not the best, but he’s one of the best in Europe and the world,” said the Italian after his side’s 2-1 triumph at Anfield on Wednesday.
Five goals this season sees him at the top of the Premier League’s goalscoring charts too, and there’s no question Hazard has returned from the World Cup in the same dazzling form he showed for semi-finalists Belgium.
Liverpool will come up against Hazard once more this week when they travel to Stamford Bridge on Saturday and while much of the pre-match focus is likely to shine on the former Chelsea talisman, there may be one particular player on the opposite side with a point to prove.
In his six years and 322 games for Chelsea, Hazard has netted 98 goals, with his season’s best sitting at a solid – if not spectacular – 16 two years ago.
In contrast, Mohamed Salah spent his first year with Liverpool obliterating records left and right with a 32-goal haul that saw him become the all-time Premier League top scorer for a 38-game campaign.
When you consider the talent that has preceded Salah in England’s top flight, it is some feather to place in your cap.
It was the Egyptian who inspired Liverpool to a remarkable charge to the Champions League final, before his 44-goal season cruelly ended in tears after Sergio Ramos’ skullduggery.
His other-worldly performances saw him scoop the PFA and FWA Footballer of the Year award, as well as Liverpool’s own in-house version of the gong.
Salah’s scarcely believable Liverpool record stands at 47 goals in just 60 games, with 12 assists to Hazard’s 41.
To put it into perspective, Salah has exactly half as many Premier League goals as Hazard’s 74 in what is just six games more than a quarter of the time.
Boiling such world-class players’ impacts down to bare, black and white statistics perhaps betrays the aesthetic joy that they bring to the game in different ways, though.
For example, you will be hard pushed to find someone who can relay the goal and assists returns of Zinedine Zidane during his playing career without a quick Google, but the Frenchman is widely accepted as one of the finest footballers of all time.
The same can be said for the likes of Luis Figo, Ronaldinho and countless other greats who have graced football over the past 30 years.
It is however, perhaps how the game has been viewed since Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi began to carve out numbers that were previously unheard of as a matter of routine.
The two best players of a generation have set the bar astronomically high and it is the standard to which other world stars – including Salah and Hazard – aspire to reach.
Salah’s appearance on the podium of FIFA’s The Best awards this week is proof that the Liverpool superstar is being recognized on the world stage for his output, at least.
Wherever you stand on the issue, there is no denying that Salah’s goalscoring feats far outweigh his Chelsea counterpart’s.
To watch Hazard in full flight, it is easy to make such claims about him being the division’s best.
His bewitching and evasive style can be breathtaking and awe-inspiring – as Liverpool have found to their cost on a number of occasions – but Hazard is prone to bouts of inconsistency.
The likes of Salah, Kevin De Bruyne, Sergio Aguero and a couple of others might contest such assertions about the Chelsea man being top dog at present.
Debates over the ‘best’ will rumble on of course. It is a subjective topic and one that differs by personal definition, but Salah’s impact is surely more keenly felt than Hazard’s.
The best player in the Premier League?
Salah has the perfect chance to stake his own claim at Stamford Bridge this Satruday.