The easiest way to gauge how close a Chelsea manager is to the sack is to study Eden Hazard as he leaves the field prematurely.
Which he often does.
Of his 38 appearances for his club this season, only 14 have seen him complete the match. He has come on as a substitute on seven occasions and been hooked 17 times. His number has been up in lights more often than his name.
Granted, on some occasions, it is to preserve his energy when a job looks done. But that was not the case at Old Trafford 11 days ago or very late on at the Etihad last Sunday.
When Hazard walked past Antonio Conte in the 89th minute of that 1-0 drubbing by Manchester City, the pair did not exchange a glance.
Hazard was probably already formulating his velvety hatchet job on Conte.
"When you leave the pitch, you have the impression that you have ran but you have not played a game of football,” he said.
In the final throes of Jose Mourinho’s second Chelsea era, Hazard did not even have to add to the symbolism of a substitution.
In early December 2015, Mourinho withdrew Hazard from a 2-0 Champions League win over Porto at Stamford Bridge in the 90th minute. Hazard shrugged off Jose’s handshake.
One game later, he went one better, taking himself off with an apparent hip problem when Mourinho seemed sure he could continue after just half an hour of a 2-1 defeat at Leicester.
Hazard simply walked, and Mourinho walked the plank a couple of days later.
In the case of Hazard and Conte, if it was a case of one or the other at the end of this season, the manager would clearly be the casualty.
That much is clear from all the noises not coming from the boardroom.
But while Hazard might be hamstrung by Conte’s tactics, he is not exactly pulling up any trees right now.
It really was a ridiculously thankless task at Manchester City, but Hazard’s assertion that he ‘gave everything’ in that game did not chime with what I witnessed.
He looked a little like he was sulking half the time.
Hazard, whose current deal expires in the summer of 2020, knows there is a new contract there to be signed.
Roman Abramovich would not want to sell him to Real Madrid, surely.
Mind you, Real Madrid’s courtship of Hazard appears to have been going on for ever without them actually getting close to popping the question.
It sometimes makes you wonder if it is genuine.
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- 'I barely got a touch' - Eden Hazard questions Chelsea's approach at Man City as fresh Real Madrid links emerge
Perhaps they will look at Hazard’s figures for this season — 25 Premier League appearances, 11 goals and three assists — and compare them to, say, Mo Salah’s for Liverpool: 28 Premier League appearances, 24 goals, nine assists... and zero stroppiness.
Yes, Salah, also two years the Belgian’s junior, is playing in a much more adventurously coached, attacking side but, even so, he looks on a different level to Hazard right now.
If Real Madrid are going to throw their money and pulling power around, no matter how fantastically remote the chances of success would be, they would surely target Salah ahead of Hazard.Read More
- Jamie Carragher says Hazard will have told his agent he wants out after Chelsea's Man City display
For what seems an age now, Hazard has been talked about as being just below the Lionel Messi-Cristiano Ronaldo bracket.
He is a fantastic player.
His wonderful contribution to Chelsea’s title triumph of 2016-17 was under-rated.
At his best, he is unstoppable, a joy to watch.
He should be as important to Chelsea as Messi is to Barcelona, as Ronaldo is to Real.Read More
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That is why Conte’s recent deployment of him, and his substitutions, are further signs that the manager knows his own days are numbered.
Conte has not been good for Hazard this season, certainly not recently, but neither has Hazard been great for Conte.
Mourinho took the hit when Hazard drifted in 2015, and Conte will take the hit this time.
Maybe the player has to take a look at himself now and again.
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