The Hazard enigma
Eden Hazard looked much-improved against Alavés, providing a goal and assist for Real Madrid. But doubts still remain over his physical state.
Real Madrid finally awoke from the nightmare following their double elimination from the Super Cup and Copa del Rey at the respective hands of Athletic Bilbao and Alcoyano, with a convincing 4-1 victory against Alavés at the Mendizorroza stadium.
Several big names left their mark on the game: Toni Kroos gave two assists, Luka Modric another, Karim Benzema scored twice, while Eden Hazard had his best performance of the season, providing a neat back heel assist for Benzema before scoring a fine goal of his own five minutes later, where he showed great technical ability to take down a long ball and then slot it home with his bad leg.
Hazard's first season as a Madrid player was an injury-laden ordeal during which he managed just one goal against Granada. And his second season has so far not gone much better: he has already suffered several injuries, as well as a bout of coronavirus, which has stopped him from getting into his stride.
Before the Alavés game, he had only managed two goals – one against Huesca and a penalty against Inter Milan at the San Siro. That is very little output from a player that cost more than €100 million. But his performance at the Mendizorroza has helped to instill some renewed hope in those that still believe he can still reach the heights he reached as a Chelsea footballer.
Bettoni: We’ve got great faith in Hazard
Despite Hazard’s decent display, Madrid assistant coach David Bettoni (sitting in for the absent Zinedine Zidane, who is in quarantine following his coronavirus diagnosis) decided to replace the Belgian striker after 60 minutes, denying him the chance to cap off his good performance with another goal that would have further raised optimism.
“The decision to replace Hazard with Vinicius Jr. was to offer us a more direct threat. He performed well for the 63 minutes he was out there. He's fine and bringing Vini on was just because we wanted to freshen things up. Eden has had a tough time of things with injuries over the past season and a half, but we've got to be patient with him,” said Bettoni after the game.
“It's true that in the world of football and at Real Madrid patience is hard to come by, but we’ve got great faith in Eden. He put in a great performance tonight and got an assist and a goal. We saw flashes of Hazard at his best tonight and we'll come to see that now in every game."
Zidane taking things slowly with Hazard
Depsite Betoni's words, the truth is that doubts still remain regarding Hazard's physical state. The 29-year-old was seen limping after the game at the Mendizorroza, and he has yet to complete a full match since his return from his latest injury (he played 13 minutes against Elche, 16 minutes against Celta, 75 minutes against Osasuna, 67 minutes in the Super Cup against Athletic, 22 minutes against Alcoyano in the Copa del Rey, and 63 minutes against Alavés).
This time, Zidane is taking things slowly with the Belgian star after he had previously pushed it too far by giving him several consecutive starts following his return from an earlier injury, which ended up with him back on the injury list once again.
Hazard: Atalanta the target
If everything goes to plan, the idea is that Hazard will reach his maximum level for the first leg of the Champions League last-16 on February 24 against Atalanta in Italy. There are five league games between now and then, which is enough time for him to train, play, rest and avoid risks while he picks up his cruising speed.
The one-on-one dribbling spark that made him an exceptional player in England is still missing. Though, at least, he has shown his ability to score and set up goals. Expectations of the Belgian in the coming weeks will range from best to worst. That is the enigma of Hazard these days.
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