Premier League: Eden Hazard blames Champions League football for Chelsea's meek title defence this season

AFP
A lot of water has flown under the bridge since the last time these two clubs squared-up against each other, but neither club has been a force to reckon with in Europe in recent years. While Barcelona have visibly been the second best to a rampaging Real Madrid, Chelsea have struggled to replace the match-winners in Didier Drogbas and Frank Lampards.

>London: Chelsea playmaker Eden Hazard believes the English champions' defence of their title was always going to be compromised by a return to Champions League football this season.

Despite the Belgian's 13th goal of the season, Chelsea crumbled to a 4-1 defeat at Watford on Monday night to remain fourth in the Premier League, 19 points adrift of runaway leaders Manchester City.

"I think the Premier League is difficult. It is hard to win every year," Hazard told ESPN FC.

"Last year we didn't have the Champions League. This year we have less time to be ready for the games. Every week there are three games."

Despite speculation intensifying over his future, Chelsea manager Antonio Conte dismissed suggestions of tiredness for his side's struggles as an excuse.

"The winner finds a solution, the loser finds excuses. In my life, I like to be a winner and I am a winner," said the Italian.

However, with his job on the line, Chelsea face a season-defining few weeks after West Brom's visit to Stamford Bridge on Monday.

A home tie against Hull City in the FA Cup fifth round is followed by the visit of Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie on 20 February, before trips to both Manchester United and City in the league and then the return Champions League leg at the Camp Nou on 14 March.

Conte has repeatedly voiced his displeasure at the club's recruitment strategy following the departure of key players in Chelsea's title-winning campaign such as Diego Costa and Nemanja Vidic.

Tiemoue Bakayoko's poor first season in England following a big money move from Monaco continued as he was sent-off after just half an hour at Watford, whilst club record signing Alvaro Morata has struggled to fill Costa's shoes due to a mixture of inconsistent form and injury.

However, with no side having retained the Premier League since 2009, Hazard believes it is the unpredictability of England's top flight that makes it so attractive to players and fans around the world.

"We changed a couple of things, we lost players, we brought some new ones and every year is different," he added.

"That's why we love football, if there is only one team that wins it would be boring.

"That's why football is special. You never know what's going to happen, especially in England." View More