West Ham lining up against Eden Hazard last weekend held ominous signs for Manuel Pellegrini.
The Belgian superstar went into the game as arguably the Premier League’s form player, fresh from bagging a hat-trick against Cardiff the previous week.
He was also well-rested after not travelling to Greece for Chelsea’s midweek Europa League assignment; which also meant he missed out on the ensuing travel chaos.
Pellegrini had a decision to make; who should he use at right-back to stop Hazard? He had two contrasting options; the pace but rawness of Ryan Fredericks, or the experience but aging legs of Pablo Zabaleta.
Zabaleta’s experience showed
The Chilean opted for the older man in Zabaleta, hoping that experience would outweigh speed and it absolutely worked.
Hazard was subdued as Zabaleta’s greater maturity shone through. The Argentine made eight clearances as Hazard was limited to one shot on target and one key pass.
That represented a hugely impressive afternoon for Zabaleta, who shackled one of the league’s elite talents as the Hammers picked up a first clean sheet of the season.
Bad news for Fredericks
Former Fulham man Fredericks was brought to the club to add attacking thrust and pace to stop counter attacks.
His shaky start to the season has seen Pellegrini turn to his trusted lieutenant in Zabaleta, as Arthur Masuaku has been charged with being a more aggressive option down the left.
With the strong relationship between Zabaleta and Pellegrini, Fredericks could be set for an extended spell on the sidelines; especially if Zabaleta can prove his aging legs can keep pace with the division’s top widemen.