The return of Eden Hazard has generated a lot of excitement amongst Real Madrid supporters, with the Belgian showing glimpses of brilliance in some impressive performances, but rarely has the result matched his individual display.
It is worth remembering that the forward only tested negative for COVID-19 a few days ago, having first tested positive on November 7, yet he started away to Villarreal on Saturday afternoon. He knows that there is a lot of responsibility on his shoulders, but his performance at the Estadio de la Ceramica was not Hazard at his best.
Hazard lacked pace and it was evident. The way that he plays, with an emphasis on dribbling and creating, is affected when he doesn’t have that burst to get away from opposition players, as is the case right now. As such, the 29-year-old ends up passing it to a teammate nearby rather than running directly at the defence.
Zinedine Zidane was aware of this and thus brought Vinicius Junior on against Villarreal, with the hope being that Brazilian would be able to exploit his speed and help Real Madrid score a second goal. However, it didn’t have the desired effect as Villarreal would go on to score an equaliser from the penalty spot after Thibaut Courtois brought down Samu Chukwueze.
This is the second time this season that Hazard has had to come back after a period out of the team. The first was as a result of his physique and fitness at the start of the campaign, with the former Chelsea star making his first appearance of the campaign away to Borussia Monchengladbach in the Champions League on October 27.
Just as it seemed like Hazard was coming into some form, with it looking like he was ready to step up and become the star Zidane hoped he would be when he first signed in the summer of 2019, he tested positive for COVID-19. That meant that he missed the 4-1 defeat away to Valencia, as well as Belgium’s matches during the last international break.
However, his two coaches with Real Madrid and Belgium – Zidane and Roberto Martinez respectively – are in tune with each other. They both think that Hazard will be back to his best in 2021.
Ahead of the European Championship next summer, Martinez understands the need for the forward to be firing on all cylinders, plus he also recognises that Hazard has now recovered from the ankle operation he underwent in March. The Spanish coach is optimistic that Real Madrid’s No.7 will shine in the Spanish capital and then carry that form into Euro 2021.
Zidane is of the same opinion. There is no doubt that it is the Frenchman’s priority to put Hazard in his XI, even ahead of other players that have been at the club for longer, such as Marco Asensio, who only played six minutes against Villarreal. Vinicius also came on as a substitute at the Estadio de la Ceramica, while Rodrygo Goes warmed the bench for the entire match.
That is why everything points towards Zidane naming Hazard in the starting line-up for Real Madrid’s crucial Champions League match away to Inter in midweek. The Belgian has had some game time and showed glimpses of his talent, and the hope will now be for him to build on that in training.
Zidane has always placed faith in Hazard for the big games, even when there have been doubts surrounding him, as was the case when Real Madrid faced Villarreal in the final stretch of last season, with this win helping Los Blancos secure the LaLiga Santander title at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano.
Unlike other players who are eased back into the fold, Zidane is not afraid to put Hazard in the XI as soon as he is back training with the group. After all, Hazard is his signing and he continues to believe in him.