Stoppage Time: Hazard making his mark at Chelsea
(Sports Network) - It's hard to say that Eden Hazard's start to life at Chelsea has been a total shock.
After all, the club paid over $50 million this summer to secure his signature and ward off a host of other top European clubs.
But not even Chelsea could have foreseen the type of form that Hazard has been in over the course of the first three games.
Maybe pleasantly surprised would be a better way to phrase it.
After a season in which Hazard scored 20 goals and assisted on 16 more for Lille in Ligue 1, the young Belgium international has been instrumental in helping Chelsea to a perfect three wins from three games in Premier League play.
In fact, Hazard has had a hand in seven of the eight goals scored by Chelsea through three games, and his performance has not been lost on his teammates.
"A player like him (Hazard) can make a difference," Chelsea striker Fernando Torres said. "It is a privilege for a striker to have a player like him or Juan (Mata), Oscar or Frank Lampard behind you.
"I think we are having the ball more than usual and that is important. We are not as worried as last season about defending because we have the ball for most of the time."
Last season, Chelsea captured both the Champions League and FA Cup titles based mostly on a strong defense and an attack that showed up sporadically.
However, the addition of Hazard has given Chelsea an extra dimension this season.
The 21-year-old has made a seamless transition from Ligue 1 to the Premier League by being able to take on defenders in space and creating openings for other players.
Hazard has a very quick burst in short areas, which makes him a handful, and no player has benefited more from his arrival than Torres.
The Spaniard has been a lightning rod for criticism since his big-money move from Liverpool a few years ago, but Torres appears to be returning to form with Hazard as the catalyst.
A confident, in-form Torres would do wonders for Chelsea offensively. And with the continued success of Hazard, there is no reason why the Blues can't challenge once more for the league title after a disappointing sixth-place finish last term.
A fee of $50 million brings with it lofty expectations, but Hazard looks like a bargain to date.
He are a few other new faces who have made a big splash since arriving in the Premier League:
Michu, Swansea City, Midfielder:
After being one of the surprise packages of last season, there were plenty of questions surrounding Swansea City at the start of the new season. A number of departures, including manager Brendan Rodgers and midfielders Joe Allen and Scott Sinclair, left many wondering if this would be the same free-flowing Swans team from a year ago. But two games into the new season, those questions have been answered emphatically. New Swansea boss Michael Laudrup has picked up where Rodgers left off with his team, outscoring the opposition in its first two games by a combined score of 8-0. Sinclair and Allen played big roles for Swansea last season, but Michu's arrival from Rayo Vallecano over the summer has more than made up for that. The Spaniard showed his penchant for finding the net last season with 15 goals in La Liga, and he has already scored three times for the Welsh side this term, announcing his arrival to the English game with a two-goal performance against QPR in the opener. The 26-year-old has combined with Nathan Dyer to make Swansea's attack the talk of the league.
Mladen Petric, Fulham, Striker:
Most of the headlines surrounding Fulham this summer have centered on the transfer saga of forward Clint Dempsey, who has expressed his desire to leave Craven Cottage with one season remaining on his contract. The American led Fulham with 17 goals last term, and his absence was expected to leave a huge void up top for manager Martin Jol. But Fulham has thrived offensively without Dempsey, netting seven goals in two games thanks in large part to the contributions of summer signing Petric. The Croatian joined Fulham from Hamburg and scored two goals in his debut against Norwich City, while coming within a whisker of adding to his total against Manchester United over the weekend. The 31-year-old has livened up the Fulham attack by being strong on the ball and showing an ability to finish that, outside of Dempsey last season, was sorely lacking.
Shinji Kagawa, Manchester United, Midfielder:
It was just three years ago that Kagawa was playing in the Japanese second division, but now the 23-year-old finds himself in the lineup of one of the world's biggest clubs. Kagawa's ascent up the soccer ladder has been stunning, with the Japan international making his name in Germany with Borussia Dortmund prior to his move to Old Trafford. Kagawa helped Dortmund win both the league and German Cup last season as he tallied 13 goals and assisted on eight more in the Bundesliga, and he has shown the same knack for making plays at United. Kagawa was one of the few bright spots for the club in a season-opening 1-0 defeat at Everton, and he scored a goal and nearly had another in the team's 3-2 victory over Fulham this past weekend. With a host of talented strikers to work with, including Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and Danny Welbeck, Kagawa should continue to develop as one of the better midfielders in the Premiership.
Santi Cazorla, Arsenal, Midfielder:
There hasn't been much to cheer about for Arsenal fans this season with the club playing back-to-back scoreless draws to open the campaign. But one sign of optimism has been the play of new arrival Cazorla, who has been by far the best player on the team. Cazorla has moved to London after establishing himself as one of the more consistent players in La Liga over the past few seasons, which included one year at Malaga in which he scored nine goals and had five assists while playing in all 38 league matches. The 27-year-old has been asked to pull the strings in midfield for the Gunners, who have a host of new faces up top after the departure of former captain Robin van Persie. And while fellow newcomers Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud haven't been as quick to acclimate to the English game, Cazorla's continued playmaking ability in midfield will certainly expedite the process. Arsenal has been firing blanks this season, but it won't last for long if Cazorla's form continues.