REAL MADRID

Real Madrid: Eden Hazard facing difficult task of winning back his place in Zidane's starting XI

With Asensio and Lucas Vázquez in fine form, it's is going to be much harder for the Belgian to break back into Zidane's starting line-up.

Two brief 15-minute run-outs against Elche and Celta was probably enough for Eden Hazard to realise that he is going to find it difficult to secure a regular place in the starting XI at Real Madrid - regardless of whatever star status he might have enjoyed in the past. The Belgian forward's return after his ninth injury has coincided with both Lucas Vázquez and Marco Asensio hitting their best form which has reinforced Zidane's idea that he has now found his most effective XI, a 4-3-3 with Lucas and Asensio on the wings - both also do their fair share of defensive duties.

Lucas Vázquez has been one of the big surprises of the season. He was one of the players listed to leave Madrid over the summer but decided to stay and make the most of every chance he is given during the final year of his contract. Now, because of the performances he has had, he is likely to be offered an extension. He has now featured in the starting line-up 16 times. His goal against Celta yesterday was also special - he hadn't scored a header in LaLiga since his opening minute strike against Real Sociedad in 2018. In all of his last four league goals, Benzema has provided the pass. Before yesterday, the last player to set him up in front of goal, other than Karim was Cristiano in 2018. On Saturday it was Asensio, another player who is blocking a way into the team for Hazard...

Asensio is gradually regaining his self-confidence but he has now participated in four of the team's last five goals. He scored Madrid's second against Celta - opening his account for the season after 20 appearances - half of them in the starting XI. That speaks volumes about Zidane's plans for Asensio, who he had in mind to form a three-man attack with Benzema and Hazard at the start of the season; but he has since seen the team working better with Lucas on the right and Asensio over on the left. He's been decisive in the last three games, against Granada, Elche and Celta.

Finding a place for Hazard

Within that context, Zizou must now find a place where Hazard can fit in, as a relatively recent star signing, it would seem that his place would be guaranteed. But on the other hand, Zidane isn't the kind of coach who will gift a place in his starting XI without merit - although he has been bringing Hazard on as a late sub in games so that he has the chance to work on his fitness and sharpness. "We need to be patient with Hazard and take it slowly, step by step," was all Zidane would say after the Celta game. But things have been going so slowly that Hazard has only played eight games this season (scoring two goals - one in the Champions and another in LaLiga).

And in the meantime, Hazard's market value continues to fall. When he signed for Madrid, Transfermarkt estimated that he was worth 150 million euros. Today, his value stands at 60 million. Since joining Real Madrid, between several muscular injuries and a bout of coronavirus, he has missed a total of 48 games. He has played just 30% of the total possible minutes for the team. It's a case of bad luck which Asensio and Lucas Vázquez have taken advantage of to show what they can offer the team.