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London - Chelsea’s young Belgian winger Eden Hazard has the attributes to become one of the world’s best footballers, according to teammate Frank Lampard.
Hazard, who joined the European champions from Lille in June, is in the middle of a purple patch of form and his dynamic raids were a feature of Sunday’s 2-0 victory over London rivals West Ham.
Lampard stole the spotlight after opening the scoring with his 200th goal for the club but the England international was gushing in his praise of Hazard and compared him to the twinkle-toed Italian Gianfranco Zola, one of Chelsea’s greatest players.
“Eden is 22. He has got the world at his feet and he can handle the pressure because he is that good,” the 34-year-old Lampard said.
“His ability and speed off the mark and the way he is able to turn on a sixpence are what all great attacking players have and he’s got it in abundance.
“Zola did it throughout his career while Eden’s at a relatively early part of his career but what he is showing now are glimpses that he can be in that bracket and be one of the top players in the world,” said Lampard.
Hazard started his debut season in the Premier League in dazzling style before suffering a dip in form.
The quick-silver winger has really come into his own in recent weeks, scoring stunning long-range goals against Manchester United and Sparta Prague.
Hazard, like Zola, is equally good with left and right foot and he evoked memories of the Italian maestro when he killed off West Ham with the second goal on Sunday.
Receiving the ball out on the right wing, he tricked his way past several defenders before driving a powerful left-foot effort into the bottom corner from 15 metres.
“He is very laid back, a great character and not too much bothers him by the look of it,” said Lampard.
“That’s the way he plays and it reflects in his game. I hope he carries on doing it because he’s an absolute pleasure to play with.”
Hazard next shows off his skills on the World Cup stage, with Belgium playing back-to-back qualifiers against Macedonia on March 22 and 26, before returning to confront a dizzying programme of four fixtures in eight days for Chelsea.
The third-placed Londoners face Southampton in the Premier League on March 30 and Manchester United in an FA Cup quarter-final replay two days later.
Chelsea then entertain Russians Rubin Kazan in a Europa League quarter-final first leg on April 4 before hosting Sunderland in the Premier League two days later.
“We’ve got a big enough squad to handle it,” said Lampard. “People talk about fixture congestion but it’s a great thing for the club because it means we are still in with a chance of winning things. I suppose the Premier League is our priority because it’s our bread and butter but we have a couple of chances to win some cups so we have to spread ourselves and we’ll be determined to try and win them.”
Meanwhile, London police are investigating missile throwing by West Ham supporters towards their former player Lampard after the Chelsea midfielder scored on Sunday.
“We are investigating instances of coin-throwing at Chelsea versus West Ham. There have been no arrests. Inquiries continue,” said a Met police spokesman on Monday.
Lampard, who joined Chelsea from West Ham in 2001, headed in the opener after 19 minutes at Stamford Bridge and the goal was greeted with abuse from the nearby away fans who threw coins and hot dogs.
The England international’s strike was his 200th for the European champions as he closes in on the club record of 202 set by Bobby Tambling in the 1960s and 1970s.