Eden Hazard has finally arrived at Real Madrid
A horrendously wet night in the Basque Country was where Los Blancos fans got to see the Belgian winger show what all the fuss was about.
Eden Hazard will remember the rainy Saturday night at Ipurua that changed his life at Real Madrid. It was not the game in which he made the most passes (37 compared to 54 against Brugge), nor the one in which he had his most successful dribbles (six compared to the seven against Sevilla). It was not even the game in which he scored or shot the most (he in fact had no shots on goal, and his only goal this season was against Granada). And despite all that, this was the Hazard everyone was expecting.
The arrival of Hazard
Following the 0-4 victory for Los Blancos, montages were put together showing the Belgian's highlights from the game. It was simply spectacular and one that will not be forgotten any time soon (although Chelsea fans may remind us that the next eye-catching performance is likely to be just around the corner). Hazard was skipping down the wing, which is great news for Madridistas, and as the night moved seemlessly into Sunday morning, those gathered in bars still reflected on the moment when he left two Eibar players for dead with an exquisite change of pace before crossing with a neatly executed rabona.
Hazard has arrived. It has taken him 16 games, effectively his pre-season that has eaten into a quarter of the campaign, but his true face has now been seen. Physically he looked in a much better condition as he stepped out into the wet Basque evening - some people even joking that he maybe preferred a more 'English' type of weather - and for the first time he decided to face up to his opponents one-on-one. He attempted 11 dribbles, a level of boldness that we've not seen thus far, and also worked back, recovering the ball from the opposition on seven occasions. Only Casemiro mopped up better. We saw a player, brought in as the key 'galáctico' siging, at last, take on the responsibility.
"Hazard always needs time to get to his optimal form. He will get there...", was the message coming from inside the club to manage the criticism that was being pointed towards the star brought in to erase, at least to some degree, the memory of Cristiano Ronaldo. The player himself was being questioned over his fitness, with images spreading across social media appearing to show that he was considerably overweight compared to before. On 18 August, Hazard took the initiative and posted his own video, scoffing those who had called him "fat". His toned naked torso with two words: "Six pack".
His manager Zinedine Zidane understood from the beginning that his new star needed minutes under his belt, even if questions over his performance levels suggested otherwise. Clearly the injury he picked up in the warm-up of the first day in Balaidos didn't aid his adaptation to the situation. He had to wait until 14 September and, since then, he has played 11 of the 12 matches as he looked to harness his sharpness and confidence. And then in Ipurua, we saw this really come together, with even greater things now expected, barring injury.
Hazard's French connection
As well as his renewed desire to drive at his back-tracking opponents, his link up play was clear to see, and a connection has been growing in recent weeks with Madrid's number nine, Karim Benzema. They were always looking for each other as attacking opportunities developed and with six passes to the Frenchman, only Modric was found more by the winger. Benzema found his wide man on ten occasions.
At this point last season Hazard had already scored eight goals with Chelsea and provided seven assists. That participation in 15 goals compares to the five (one goal and four assists) that he has had in his fledgling Madrid career. The numbers associated with the three headline acts coming out of LaLiga's summer transfer business - Hazard (€100m), Griezman (€120m) and João Félix (€126m) - do not stand up to the investments made. But there is a feeling in Madrid that one of them has just taken over the stage.