Thomas Vermaelen: Lionel Messi is better than ‘world-class’ Eden Hazard

Barcelona defender Thomas Vermaelen has said that Lionel Messi is on a different level to Eden Hazard despite the latter becoming the go-to player in the Chelsea ranks. The former Arsenal man is set to return to London this week when the Catalan giants face-off against the Blues in the Champions League round of 16 first-leg.

In an interview with The Guardian, the experienced centre-back was asked to compare the individual abilities of Hazard and Messi. Though he initially admitted that there are similarities in their style of play, the 32-year-old stressed it is difficult to place him into the calibre of Messi, who has five Ballon d’Or titles to his name.

He said: “There are similarities. They are both quite small with that low sense of gravity so they can turn and twist very quickly. They have that element of surprise in their game and they can move so fast. And especially in the form he is in now, I saw the goal he scored recently against Watford, for example, he’s a world-class player. To compare him to Messi is so difficult but he is up there with the very best.”

Barring a poor 2015/16 season, Hazard has been a consistent performer in the Blues ranks, and he has helped the Blues to the Premier League crown in two of the previous three seasons. Despite this, he has yet to push for Champions League honours with the Blues, and many believe this could be the stepping stone to transforming into a truly great player.

Chelsea have had a strong record against Barcelona in the Champions League, especially at home, and they will hope to take advantage of the first-leg in order to progress further in the competition. Vermaelen is expected to make the match day squad for the encounter, and he may make the starting line up depending on the fitness of Gerard Pique.