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Barcelona vs. Chelsea is Eden Hazard's chance to show his true class

Eden Hazard declared "you want to shine when you play the best in the world" ahead of Chelsea's Champions League clash with Barcelona last month, but in the end, the Belgian was unable to illuminate Stamford Bridge during the 1-1 draw in the first leg of their round-of-16 tie.

There was one pretty important mitigating factor, of course. With Antonio Conte reluctant to start either Alvaro Morata or Olivier Giroud as a central striker, Hazard was deployed as the focal point of Chelsea's attack.

Hazard is a forward of supreme talent, and a player capable of winning games with one moment of individual brilliance, but he is not a central striker and he has made no secret of his dislike for the role, even claiming publicly after the 1-0 defeat at Manchester City last week that "we could have played on for three hours and I wouldn't touch a ball."

He went on to say that "it's difficult to play a good game when you only touch the ball three times," so Conte has been left in no doubt that his star player is unhappy whenever he is asked to leave his favoured position as Chelsea's No. 10 to sacrifice himself in order to do a job for the team.

Yet Conte has also made it clear enough that he is not prepared to take the tactical risk of playing a centre-forward such as Morata or Giroud against Barcelona, so Hazard will almost certainly have to play as a false No. 9 again when Chelsea travel to face the La Liga leaders on Wednesday.

Hazard may regard such a decision by Conte as denying him the chance to "shine" against Barcelona, but the harsh reality for the 27-year-old is that he has simply not done enough in the Champions League, in any role, to dictate where he should and should not play.

Eden Hazard struggled to make an impact in the first leg of Chelsea's Champions League tie against Barcelona.

Both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have been forced to change their game and play in different positions for their clubs over the years, but rather than complain about it, they have just got on with the task, embraced the challenge and mastered whatever role they have been asked to perform.

Hazard should see Conte's tactical switch as an opportunity, a chance to prove he can impact games wherever he plays, but instead, he appears to react as though he is being dragged, kicking and screaming, away from his comfort zone.

That comfort zone is playing as a No. 10 in the Premier League, where nobody can question Hazard's ability or credentials.

But it is a different matter in the Champions League because we are still waiting to discover whether he is the real deal or just another pretender.

For a player who is continually linked with moves to the likes of Real Madrid or Paris Saint-Germain, Hazard's stats in the Champions League are surprisingly underwhelming.

In 43 Champions League games for Chelsea, Hazard has scored just eight goals and created 13 assists.

When it comes to the knockout phase of the competition, he has scored just twice, with one assist, in 10 games.

He is supposedly in the bracket of game-changers beneath Ronaldo and Messi, but Hazard has done little in the Champions League to back up his lofty reputation.

It is not all about goals and assists, of course, even for a creative player like Hazard. A footballer is defined by his contribution and impact in the biggest games, but five-and-a-half years after signing for Chelsea, has Hazard delivered a defining performance in the Champions League?

He impressed during the 2-1 group-stage victory against Atletico Madrid in Spain earlier this season, when his link-play with Morata hinted at a potentially lethal strike partnership between the pair, but great players are not defined by performances in group games.

Eden Hazard said 'we could have played on for three hours and I wouldn't touch a ball' after Chelsea's loss to Manchester City
Eden Hazard said 'we could have played on for three hours and I wouldn't touch a ball' after Chelsea's loss to Manchester City.

Chelsea's iconic Champions League moments remain those created by Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, John Terry, and even Fernando Torres.

Hazard, for all of his efforts in the Premier League, is still firmly down the billing when it comes to telling the club's Champions League story.

Wednesday at the Camp Nou offers him the perfect opportunity change all that, however.

There are few greater stages on which to make a statement in the Champions League than the home of Barcelona, so Hazard should now regard this week as his chance to show that he really does belong in the competition.

If he is asked to play as a false No. 9 by Conte, then Hazard should shrug his shoulders and get on with it, believing that the very best players can play anywhere and still make a crucial difference.

Or he could do what he has done in recent weeks and react like a schoolboy who has been given extra homework.

If he does the latter, Chelsea will be heading out of the Champions League and Hazard will still be regarded as a player who goes missing on the biggest stage.

Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_


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