When Eden Hazard made his much-awaited move to Real Madrid, it was touted up there as one of the biggest moves of the summer – rightly so. In a deal worth up to £130m, Los Blancos were getting their hands on one of the world’s best players (in his position) and it was expected he would fill a large part of the void that was evident since Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure from the club. Two months into the season and Zinedine Zidane is already under pressure following some disappointing performances from his side. The fact that new signing Eden Hazard hasn’t lived up to expectation (so far) hasn’t made the narrative any better.
Without doubt, Eden Hazard is a game-changing talent, and he was indeed a crucial signing for Real Madrid this summer. Based on his consistent level of greatness at Chelsea and his knack for creating chances for others, Hazard was a strong signing for Zidane – on paper at least.
The issue is that Los Blancos have yet to receive Hazard’s best in his first few weeks. Many fans have wisely been patient, noticing the flashes of brilliance that Hazard provides while also praising the former Chelsea winger for his willingness to work defensively in Zinedine Zidane’s system.
Yet others are wary, noting the fee paid for Hazard. They have also been unimpressed by Real Madrid’s two performances in the Champions League against PSG and Club Brugge, and those displays make it more difficult for some to exercise patience.
Hazard has done a solid job of drawing fouls and has made some quality touches in the final third to set up teammates, but it will take time for him to find the right comfort level with his teammates at the Bernabeu.
It’s no surprise the Belgian has been fouled at an average of three times per game so far, which is the most of any Madrid player this season (via Whoscored).
If Real Madrid have plans of getting back to their dominating best, Eden Hazard will be an integral part of the process. With that in mind, here are some steps Zidane must take to get Madrid’s club-record signing back to his golden best.
Give Hazard more chemistry and confidence
The Club Brugge game offered examples of why Eden Hazard isn’t operating at his most optimal level with Real Madrid. There were times when he slowed down counterattacks or looked hesitant when leading the attack into the box, whereas he would look confident and decisive in his prime at Chelsea as one of the unquestioned top attackers in the Premier League.
When Hazard didn’t have time to think, his instincts took over, leading to some pretty passes and nifty first touches that left defenders for dead. These flashes were few and far between against Brugge, partially because the team was terrible as a whole, but they were enough to make it evident that Hazard’s quality is still very much there.
The issue is one of confidence. At Chelsea, Hazard was “The Guy”, everyone knew he was “The Guy”, and thus everything emanated from him. He had familiarity with his teammates, and newcomers in the squad understood that Hazard was the player to feed.
At Real, Hazard is still feeling out his teammates, learning his responsibilities, and developing the chemistry that is necessary to thrive in a fluid attacking trio. As Hazard gains confidence, his skill and instincts will take over, and the goals and assists will begin to appear on the stat sheet, as they did when he was an elite player at Chelsea.
It will just take a little more time. Playing at Real leads to a great deal of pressure, so hopefully the fanbase can understand this and give Hazard healthy encouragement. Feeling overwhelmed at the response to a small mistake can lead to an attacker being more hesitant, and, in the back of my mind, I sometimes wonder if that’s the case with Hazard.
Linking up with Marcelo
Ferland Mendy and Marcelo give Real Madrid two legitimate world-class options at left-back, and while Mendy should be preferred to Marcelo due to his youth and defensive prowess, the latter fullback is the considerably better attacker at this stage of their respective careers.
Marcelo injected some much-needed life into Real’s attack in the second half of the draw with Brugge, and he was even better against Levante before suffering a neck injury. Even at the age of 31, Marcelo remains one of the most dynamic attacking fullbacks in world football, with his creativity and intelligence on the ball being as exceptional as ever.
Eden Hazard could benefit greatly from playing with Marcelo on the left side. The Brazilian has shown a positive influence on any winger he links up with, and he could allow Hazard to be less isolated and more incisive.
It’s no surprise Hazard’s numbers have dwindled since his time at Chelsea compared to his current numbers in Spain. As per Whoscored, the Belgian made an average of 2.6 key passes and 49.2 total passes per game while at Chelsea but those numbers have so far dropped to 1.3 key passes per game and 31.7 total passes in the same vein.
The Brazilian could also offer Hazard dangerous outlet passes to start counterattacks. Against Brugge, Hazard made so many wonderful runs off the ball to threaten Brugge’s backline, but nobody was able to see him in order to deliver a teasing ball towards the Belgian.
In the same manner, Hazard’s creativity threat has dwindled as well. From making 2.9 successful long balls and 0.9 crosses per game while at Chelsea, the 28-year-old has only managed 1.3 long balls and no notable crosses per 90 in the same regard (via Whoscored). Further highlighting how a more attacking full-back option in Marcelo would further fortify Hazard’s attacking potent under Zidane.
Perhaps Marcelo and Hazard can develop a lethal connection together. With Mendy out, Marcelo and Hazard should have opportunities to hook up in attack, and Real Madrid fans should be excited at the prospect of them helping each other out.
On a good day, Eden Hazard remains one of the world’s best and it would be premature to label him a “flop” at this premature stage of the season.
Hazard has spent a lot of time isolated on the left-wing, whereas he seemed freer to roam at Chelsea. Perhaps this is something Zidane can help scheme in upcoming games, since Hazard is at his best when he’s as close to the penalty box as possible.
That’s not only because it increases the chances of him scoring or assisting with a short pass, but also because it can allow him to win more threatening free kicks. After all, one of Hazard’s best assets is his ability to draw fouls, which stems from his quick feet and low centre of gravity. The positives and flashes of brilliance have been purely evident. With more time, team chemistry and understanding, Real Madrid could get to see their money’s worth in no time.