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Real Madrid: The rebuild begins with Hazard


As Madrid plumps itself up to host thousands of Liverpool and Tottenham fans for the final at the Metropolitano, the echoes of this week's other showpiece event, in Baku, continue to resonate on the city's streets. With expected Real Madrid signing Eden Hazard out there, Los Blancos' supporters watched on in anticipation, and were not disappointed: he set up Pedro's goal, scored one from the spot and then found the net again in a display that saw him deservedly named man of the match. He may not quite be on the podium when it comes to the world's top players, but he's certainly in the group immediately below that. We knew how good he was already, of course, but this performance confirms that we're dealing with a star at the peak of his powers, and ratchets up the expectation surrounding his imminent arrival.

Hazard a quicker, higher-scoring version of a top-form Isco

Hazard (left) celebrates Chelsea's Europa League win with Blues team-mate César Azpilicueta.
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Hazard (left) celebrates Chelsea's Europa League win with Blues team-mate César Azpilicueta.Bradley Collyer/PA Wire/dpa

A player who can operate on the left of attack or, if need be, slightly more centrally, Hazard has all the qualities of Isco at his best (something we haven't seen for quite a while), but is much quicker and scores more goals. He does come with a mindset that matches his artistic style of play, though, and is not a man from whom coaches can easily elicit tactical discipline. Head coach Zinedine Zidane is surely aware of that, and maybe just doesn't really care. At the end of the day, Madrid can afford to play a good few games a year with one man freed up from such duties, just as Cristiano Ronaldo was. The problem with that came when Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale saw fit to afford themselves the same privilege, and left the other seven outfield players scrambling to make up that defensive shortfall.

That's not going to happen this time, though, because Bale will surely be offloaded this summer, even if he has to be dragged out of the Bernabéu kicking and screaming, and Benzema has changed his ways for the better. Beyond that, Hazard is a lad who leads a quiet life off the field and, at 28, is now at what you could call an age of footballing maturity. He plundered 21 goals and 17 assists this season, scooping the PFA Fans' Player of the Year award in the process, and is a great buy - albeit one of a marginally more modest profile than the transfer-market splashes that Florentino Pérez used to make. Kylian Mbappé would fit that bill, and I still haven't given up on that happening; although, more than anything else, such optimism is motivated by the memory of the miracles Pérez pulled off back in the day.