Kanté Key to Hazard Revival

Why Eden Hazard might be a better pick than Dimitri Payet in those 2016/17 fantasy football teams

At the start of a new season fantasy football managers tend to compile a short-list of players to focus on. They will target each playing position but players that are likely to contribute most on the goals and assists fronts are likely to come in for closer scrutiny.

Two players who fit the bill and are sure to feature on many of  these lists are Eden Hazard and Dimitri Payet and it is fitting that Chelsea take on West Ham United in the first Monday Night Football of the 2016/17 English Premier League season.

Payet may not feature from the off at Stamford Bridge but the big question is whether he can repeat his exploits of 2015/16, where he established himself as one of the best free-kick takers in European football and something of a ‘must-have’ midfield pick for those fantasy team sheets.

Hazard, by comparison, was a shadow of the player that had claimed the PFA Player of the Year Award in 2014/15. He finished the season 10 goals short of the number he had achieved in each of the previous two league campaigns.

Both players come into the new season on the back of impressive showings at Euro 2016. Payet started the competition in style, scoring a spectacular winner in the opener but wasn’t able to make a telling contribution in the final, which France lost to Portugal. Hazard scored once and chipped in with 4 assists from his 5 appearance, one more assist than he achieved in the whole of the 2015/16 Premier League season and his performance in Belgium’s 4-0 victory over Hungary was arguably the best individual showing at the whole tournament.

Fantasy Football Portal - Hazard and Payet

The Oulala infographic above would suggest that Payet is the better option, however, there is a new variable that could have a big impact on Hazard’s performance in 2016/17 – the arrival of N’Golo Kanté.

Leicester City won the 2015/16 English Premier League despite averaging less than 45% ball possession. Kanté was instrumental in their success – he won 175 tackles, 31 more than any other player and made 156 interceptions, 15 more than his nearest rival. This ability to win the ball back was the catalyst for many of the Foxes counter-attacks and he was able to feed Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy, who both used their pace to devastating effect.

If Kanté can produce similar figures at Chelsea, Hazard is likely to be the chief beneficiary – which could be music to the ears of fantasy football fans who decide to include the midfielder in their line-ups! Hazard averaged 4.8 dribbles per game in 2014/15 – that’s 1.3 more than Mahrez managed last season and 1.1 more than Wilfried Zaha, who topped the dribbles per game chart in 2015/16.

Will Eden Hazard produce the goods against the Hammers, enabling new Chelsea manager Antonio Conte to get off to a winning start?