Eden Hazard Is Firing In Training And Is Showing Signs He’s Ready To Be Real Madrid’s Talisman
An Eden Hazard hat-trick lit-up Real Madrid’s training session on Thursday. It had so many of the traits that made Zinedine Zidane so keen to sign him last summer.
There were two goals scored right-footed coming in off the left wing, the second of which kissed the underside of the crossbar before it hit the back of the net.
And there was a right-foot finish, rolled in from close range after he had taken a pass from Karim Benzema with whom he was supposed to form a brilliant partnership with in his first season.
The goals were scored on one of the training pitches at Real Madrid’s out-of-town Valdebebas training complex, just a long-drop kick from the club’s B-team Alfredo di Stefano stadium where they will play their last six home games of the season.
A modest 6,000-capacity venue for the what could turn out to be an extraordinary end to Hazard’s first year at Madrid if he leads the club to the title having over-turned Barcelona’s two point lead.
The first of those remaining home games will take place next Sunday against Eibar, one day after the one-year anniversary of Hazard’s presentation at the Bernabeu.
Not all players love the glitzy presentation that Real Madrid tend to do more ostentatiously than any other club, but Hazard lapped it up. He balanced the ball on the end of his nose, he kissed the badge. And when he sat down, grey-suited, in front of the Madrid media he looked like a man ready for the biggest move of his career.
A year later and with just one goal to his name, he finds himself still with everything to prove.
The consolation after what has been a difficult first season dogged by fitness problems, injuries, and then an unprecedented hiatus caused by a pandemic, is that Madrid need a talisman now more than ever, someone to step up and lead them over the line, and it’s not too late for Hazard to be that leader.
He did it right at the end of last season when he was brilliant in the Europa League final as Chelsea beat Arsenal 4-1 in what was his final game for the club. He needs to do it again and this time not over 90 minutes but over 11 games.
The stats don’t look good right now. One goal and five assists in 15 matches. Last season it was 21 goals and 17 assists in 52 games for Chelsea. The form along with the fitness has gone off the edge of a €100million (£89m) cliff.
He turned up with hamstring trouble that delayed his debut until September 14 when he managed half an hour in a 3-2 win over Levante at the Bernabeu.
He then suffered an ankle injury at the end of November that kept him out for two months. And when he came back he lasted barely three weeks before he was diagnosed with a shin fracture that looked to have ended his season.
Given a second chance by the extension to the campaign he has responded well in training under the watchful eye of Gregory Dupont, the Real Madrid physio who he first worked with at Lille.
He impressed the club with the way he turned up fitter and trimmer than some of his team-mates and certainly in better shape than the previous summer when he later admitted being five kilos overweight following the excesses of his well-deserved break after last season’s marathon.
His honesty has helped buy him time with Real Madrid’s notoriously impatient fans.
‘My first season has been bad but this is a season of adaptation,’ he told RTBF. ‘I will be judged on the second one.’
He means the 2020-21 campaign of course but the reckoning might come sooner than that.
Real Madrid have been as good as Barcelona in every department save in the most important area – they have had trouble scoring goals.
Still feeling the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo they have dominated games without punishing teams and scored 14 fewer times than Barcelona.
Hazard’s dovetailing with Benzema, seen four days ago on the training ground, is what Zidane hopes to see plenty of between now and the end of the campaign.
‘He is the best player that Madrid could build their team around,’ said Hazard’s Belgium coach Roberto Martinez on Saturday. ‘He is in his peak and I am still convinced that he is going to be a success for Real Madrid.’
There are no Euros this year when Belgium would have been one of the favourites to win the tournament. Instead all focus is on giving his long term sponsor Zidane what he most craves – the domestic crown.
If Hazard finds his best form in the next 35 days and Madrid end up with the league title he will have done what back in February, when he got injured, seemed completely impossible – he will have had a storming first season in Spain.