Leboeuf: Hazard's the best in EPL
Former Chelsea star Leboeuf says Belgium playmaker will silence Gunners tonight
ARSENAL v CHELSEA
(Tonight, 11pm, Singtel TV Ch 102 & StarHub TV Ch 227)
With a month left in this EPL campaign, Chelsea are charging towards the English Premier League title.
Holding a 10-point lead at the summit, the Blues are on the brink of landing a third league title under Jose Mourinho.
Beat second-placed Arsenal in their own den at the Emirates tonight and Mourinho knows they will be just three points from glory.
Former Chelsea star Frank Leboeuf, who made over 200 appearances in his five-year spell at Stamford Bridge, believes John Terry and Co. can silence the Gunners, because they have the best player in the EPL - Eden Hazard.
Leboeuf, who was part of the 1998 World Cup-winning France side, is in town as part of Courts Singapore's celebrations for SG50 and met fans at the retailer's megastore in Tampines yesterday.
Speaking to The New Paper, the 47-year-old former defender identified Hazard as the man to watch in tonight's London derby, even elevating the 24-year-old Belgian to the same level as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
"Hazard is a player I've followed since his time at Lille and, even then, you immediately knew he had something special," said Leboeuf.
"Arsenal have many good players and (Alexis) Sanchez is someone I'm very fond of, but they don't have anyone like Hazard.
"Not many teams do, to be honest.
"Right now in the world, you have one Ronaldo, one Messi and then one Hazard - those players are of a different class and Hazard isn't that far off and this is only the beginning for him.
"Arsenal, at one point, had fantastic players like Thierry Henry, Ian Wright and Nicolas Anelka, but now you look at Chelsea and Hazard is special, John Terry is special, Diego Costa is special."
The Frenchman admitted that he initially had doubts if Mourinho would achieve success with Chelsea in his second spell - the Portuguese took over the club in the summer of 2013 - but Leboeuf is more than happy to have been proven wrong as the club won the League Cup this season and are cruising to the Premier League title.
The one piece of silverware Mourinho has yet to deliver at Stamford Bridge is the Champions League trophy.
He has won it twice - with Porto and Inter Milan - while the Blues' only European Cup triumph came under Roberto Di Matteo in 2012.
However, Leboeuf does not believe Mourinho's legacy at Chelsea will be determined by whether or not he is able to lead them to the biggest trophy in European club football.
"Purely based on what he's done with every club he's been at, Mourinho is a legend," said Leboeuf.
"Of course, you would like to see him win the Champions League with Chelsea because he's already done it twice before with other clubs.
"I had my doubts when he chose to return because it's always tricky coming back to a club you've been successful at before.
"But he had a plan and he told everyone the first year would be difficult but to give him time to pick his own players and then things would be different.
"And now they're 10 points ahead of everyone else and almost certainly going to win the league.
"Winning the Champions League would just be a bonus to the other fantastic things he's done for the club but, for me, he's already a Chelsea legend."
Statistics don't matter to Mourinho
Jose Mourinho's Chelsea are yet to be beaten by Arsene Wenger's Arsenal in 12 attempts, but the Blues boss dismissed the relevance of the statistic ahead of tonight's crucial Premier League clash.
Mourinho has seven wins and five draws over Wenger's Gunners and another victory at the Emirates Stadium would mean Chelsea need just three more points to be champions.
The Portuguese (right), though, insisted there would be no psychological boost for his players as a result of his record against Wenger.
"They don't even know, unless they watch TV in the last couple of days or read every paper," Mourinho said.
"Players don't look at these details. Matches are isolated events, no relation with the previous one or the next one.
"I don't think they care about it. What they care about is the way we work all week, the way we prepare ourselves for the game, and the confidence we have. That's what matters."
Chelsea hope Diego Costa can recover from a hamstring problem to start, with Didier Drogba the other strike option.
Drogba has a fearsome record against the Gunners with 15 goals in as many appearances, including two while playing for Galatasaray.
"Let's see if he can do it again," Mourinho said. "(It) doesn't count. It's an independent event. It doesn't matter what he did in the past. But if he can do it again for us, he'll do that."
Mourinho also retaliated after Wenger questioned Chelsea's defensive tactics.
The Blues boss has deployed a "more strategic, less artistic" approach in recent weeks, including the 1-0 win at QPR when Cesc Fabregas scored with their only shot on target and their defeat of Manchester United, who dominated possession at Stamford Bridge two Saturdays ago.
Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers said defensive coaching was not difficult after Chelsea's snatch-and-grab win at Anfield last season and Wenger repeated the barb ahead of tonight's contest.
The Arsenal boss said: "It is easy to defend."
Mourinho hit back, saying: "It's not easy. If it was easy, you wouldn't lose 3-1 at home to Monaco (in the Champions League last 16).
"If he defends well, he draws 0-0 against Monaco and wins in Monte Carlo. It's not easy to prepare a team to defend."
Mourinho cares little how Chelsea are judged if, or more likely when, they become champions.
"It matters what I feel, not what people feel, think or say," he said.
The change of the free-flowing attacking philosophy which had many observers purring earlier in the season was prompted by injuries and suspensions to key personnel, including Costa, Fabregas and Nemanja Matic.
"We lost progressively the balance of our team," Mourinho added.
"When you lose crucial pieces, the team lose certain qualities.
"It (the switch in style) was just a consequence of things."
Mourinho insists his longer-term plan is to return to the more appealing way.
"I hope to start next season the same way we started this season," he said.
"This is the way we want to play, this is the way we played during the season, and the team we enjoy more.
"But it's (also) very enjoyable to deal with a difficult moment, to deal in a strategic way.
"When you are in the sea and have no boat, you need something to survive. A raft. In football, team spirit and team ethics and strategy is this." - PA Sport.
Hazard the Player of the Year: Dalglish
Former Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish has backed Chelsea star Eden Hazard to be named Player of the Year at the Professional Footballers' Association awards night today.
"Eden Hazard is not the only option when it comes to who should be crowned PFA Player of the Year on Sunday, as Jose Mourinho suggested. But he is the best option of a very good bunch," Dalglish said in the Daily Mirror.
The Belgian is nominated for the top prize alongside teammate Diego Costa, Manchester United's David de Gea, Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho, Tottenham's Harry Kane and Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez.
Hazard, who won the young player accolade last year, is nominated for that award again, along with Coutinho, Kane, de Gea, Thibaut Courtois and Raheem Sterling. - PA Sport.