Jose Mourinho has heaped praise on Eden Hazard as Chelsea seek their eighth straight win in all competitions at home to West Ham Untied on Wednesday. Hazard has played a key part in the club’s recent upturn in form, scoring three goals and becoming a constant creative threat while also adapting to the defensive work Mourinho requires of his team. And Mourinho believes the Belgian can soon be among the world’s very best.
“Does he have the capacity to reach the level of a [Lionel] Messi or Cristiano [Ronaldo]? Now I say yes, because his evolution is great,” Mourinho explained, according to The Guardian. “He has time to become a great, great player and arrive where they are -- he's 23, and Cristiano is 28, Messi 26 -- so there is space for further evolution, and there's a great ambition in him.
“They are also top goalscorers, of course, and that makes them even more special. Eden is a winger, a pure winger, so I don't think it's possible for Eden to be top scorer in the league. That normally affects people's judgment.
"But if he can be a match-winner, a player with high performances during a season ... What I feel now in him is responsibility in every aspect. Against Manchester United he made a fantastic tackle in our own box. Against Stoke, he tried to kill the game, have initiative, dribbling at people, trying to make things happen. The kid is going in a fantastic direction."
Chelsea go into Wednesday’s London derby boosted by Arsenal’s draw with Southampton the previous night. A win for the Blues will put them above their London rivals, while it will see them go top of the Premier League if Manchester City fail to gain a victory at Tottenham.
Last time out, Chelsea beat Stoke City to move into the FA Cup fifth round in a victory far more convincing than the 1-0 score-line suggested. It was a match in which Nemanja Matic made his first start since returning to the club and the former Benfica man added an important element of stability to Chelsea’s midfield. Matic’s arrival has meant that Michael Essien has joined Juan Mata and Kevin de Bruyne in being allowed to leave Stamford Bridge this month. Mohamed Salah, who Mourinho has claimed will be his last signing of the transfer window, is not yet ready to be involved on Wednesday.
However, West Ham could hand debuts to their two new loan signings from Serie A. Midfielder Antonio Nocerino, who has struggled since featuring for Italy in Euro 2012, has joined from Milan, while striker Marco Borriello has arrived to try and provide an extra goal-scoring threat. Nocerino is relishing the prospect of making his bow at Stamford Bridge.
"This is a very beautiful fixture,” he said, according to West Ham’s official website. “It's an emotional time for me, making my first appearance for the Club and with Chelsea's reputation and how they play at home.
"It is important for us to go there and get something from the game. It is a difficult place to go, but it is an opportunity for me to play my first game.”
Nocerino’s chances of starting are enhanced by the absence through injury of former Chelsea midfielder Joe Cole, however captain Kevin Nolan returns from suspension.
Where to watch: The Barclays Premier League match will kick off at 2.45 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by NBC’s Premier League Extra Time, with a live stream available via NBC Sports Live Extra.