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Fantasy Premier League: Eden Hazard is worse as a center forward

AP

Despite going goal-less for the third game in a row, Eden Hazard will remain the league leader in fantasy points through the first 22 weeks of this Premier League season.

But if you watched Chelsea's 2-1 win over Newcastle on Saturday, you'd be concerned. Hazard took just one shot and had just one chance created. Fortunately, he picked up an assist on Willian's goal, and still finished with a decent total of 9.6 points.

This was the fifth time this season that Hazard started at center forward, as opposed to his usual position on the left wing. He was also deployed there for four straight games from Dec. 8 to Dec. 26.

Hazard has said he's more comfortable playing as a winger, which also set off alarm bells. But the results haven't been nearly as bad as you might think.

The first game that Hazard started as a "false nine" was Chelsea's 2-0 victory over Manchester City -- the team's best result of the season thus far. Hazard didn't score either of the goals, but provided the assist on both, and finished with 14.9 points.

Next came a 2-1 win at Brighton. Hazard scored one goal and got the assist on the other, finishing with 25.6 points.

Hazard was shut out in Chelsea's 1-0 loss to Leicester City on Dec. 22, but took four shots and still finished with 11 points. And then he scored both goals in a 2-1 win at Watford, finishing with 33 points -- his second-best total of the season.

Throw in the Newcastle game, and Hazard has accumulated three goals and four assists in five starts at center forward, with at least one goal or assist in four out of five games. He's averaging 18.8 points when starting as a "false nine," just a little below his average of 20.3 points when starting as a winger. Not bad!

But let's take a deeper look. Not only did Hazard take just one shot against Newcastle, but he had only 26 passes completed, despite the fact that Chelsea had 65.1 percent possession. Compare that to Chelsea's first matchup with Newcastle back in August, also a 2-1 victory. Hazard started on the wing in that game, scored a goal, took five shots and had a season-high 91 passes completed!

Hazard's floor, fantasy-wise, is definitely lower when he plays as a center forward. He's averaging 31.2 passes completed in five starts at that position, compared to 51.1 passes completed in 13 starts as a winger.

What's of even more concern is that his upside may be blunted as well. Hazard's averaging just two shots per game starting at center forward, compared to 3.3 shots per game starting on the wing. And although he still leads the league in chances created with 58, he's averaging just 1.8 chances created starting at center forward, compared to 3.3 chances created starting on the wing.

And in general, Hazard has significantly overperformed so far this season, if you look at his expected goals and assists totals. He's tied for fourth in the league in goals with 10, but is only 13th in expected goals at 7.35. And he leads the league in assists with 10, but is only third in expected assists at 5.26.

So, there are clearly reasons to be concerned about Hazard -- particularly if he continues to be deployed at center forward. But keep in mind, the past two times Hazard has started on the wing (Chelsea's 1-0 win at Crystal Palace on Dec. 30, and their scoreless draw with Southampton on Jan. 2) he went without a goal or an assist.

Also keep in mind that Hazard still finished with 11.9 and 13.9 points in those two games, and has finished in double figures in 15 of 18 starts this season -- including four of his five starts at center forward.

Hazard's fantasy production really hasn't dipped very much ... at least, not yet. Meaning he's still a prime candidate at Tier 1 midfielder, especially with Chelsea having games against Bournemouth and Huddersfield Town coming up after their trip to the Emirates to face Arsenal on Saturday.

Wherever he's playing on the field, Hazard is the main man on Chelsea. The same can't be said for the likes of Raheem Sterling or Leroy Sane, who are just one prong of a diverse Manchester City attack, and prone to a very quiet game now and again. Hazard hasn't had a true dud, yet. He finished with 9.6 and 9.5 points in two of the three starts in which he didn't reach double figures, and his season-low is only 7.5.

But let's hope Hazard gets his wish, and moves back to the wing soon -- for his sake, and for ours.