Eden Hazard believes Chelsea can lay down the challenge to their rivals for next season by completing a Premier League and FA Cup double on Saturday.
Antonio Conte will be seeking one in his first season as head coach when the Premier League winners face Arsenal in the FA Cup final at Wembley.
A six-way battle for the Premier League was anticipated this season but did not materialise as resurgent Chelsea dominated, winning by seven points from Tottenham. Chelsea’s rivals will be eager to overtake them next season.
Arsenal won six of their final seven Premier League games since beating Manchester City to advance to the final. But the Gunners missed out on the top four and have a host of injury concerns ahead of the Wembley clash.
Hazard hopes Chelsea will be ruthless and send a message that the Blues are the team to beat next season, with a new generation ready to rival Chelsea’s serial winners of old.
“It’s always important against Arsenal,” Hazard said. “We just want to win games, we know that every year they have some injuries in Arsenal.
“Even for the next season, I think Saturday is a good opportunity to put pressure on them and to all the opponents also.
“The last 10 years in Chelsea it was great. But [Frank] Lampard is finished, Didier Drogba is finished, Ashley Cole, John Terry now.
“They won a lot of trophies, now it’s like a new generation.
“We want to prove that the club is one of the best in the world. So we have to be ready for that.
“We have this new manager, we have a couple of young players, so everything is ready to build something.”
Hazard joined Chelsea in 2012, after the Champions League triumph. The 26-year-old has won two Premier League titles, the League Cup and Europa League during his five years at Stamford Bridge.
He is pleased with his silverware haul, but is keen to win with the same regularity as Terry, who would claim a 16th and final major trophy of his Chelsea career with victory at Wembley.
“It’s not bad — but it can be better,” Hazard said.
“I didn’t win a lot — I won a couple of titles, but him? Everything. I hope to have the same opportunities.
“The FA Cup and Champions League, why not?”
It was a 3-0 loss at Arsenal which served as a spur for Chelsea’s season, with Conte reacting by introducing the 3-4-3 formation which has served them so well.
And Hazard scored one of the goals of the season with a solo run in Chelsea’s 3-1 win at Stamford Bridge in February.
Arsene Wenger may have looked on ruefully. He has previously said he wanted to sign Hazard, who instead moved from Lille to Chelsea for £32 million five years ago.
“They were talking a little bit, but not with me personally,” Hazard added.
Hazard was compared to Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo for his scintillating showings in Chelsea’s 2014-15 title triumph before a drop in form as the Blues finished 10th last term.
Chelsea, and Hazard, have been rejuvenated under Conte, but the Belgian is not concerned over his place in the global pecking order.
“This is football, sometimes you are at the top and sometimes not,” Hazard added. “People are always talking, I don’t care about that. I try to be the best I can.
“I don’t know if I am top five, top 10, top 20. It’s not my target. I just want to enjoy my football.”
Hazard, the Belgium captain, is confident Chelsea can fill the leadership void created by Terry’s imminent departure after 22 years with the club.
Terry made his 717th appearance and last Stamford Bridge outing as a Chelsea player in last Sunday’s win over Sunderland, and at Wembley he could turn out for a 718th time. He is likely to be a substitute.
Gary Cahill, Cesar Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Cesc Fabregas and Hazard all lead in different ways.
“Some of the guys are ready to take this opportunity,” Hazard added. “We have a couple of leaders — I try to be one on the pitch. We have a lot of guys who can do that.”
Source: PA Sport