Reviewing Eden Hazard’s first season with the Blancos
Spanish giants Real Madrid made a statement of intent during the 2019 summer transfer market by splashing almost €300 million on players from all around the world in an attempt to rebuild their squad for the post-Cristiano era. Having struggled and having performed quite awfully according to their own standards, Real were fixated on winning trophies in the 2019-20 season, with the appointment of club legend Zinedine Zidane for the second time towards the end of the 2018-19 season and making some big signings during the subsequent transfer window, Real showed the world they were ready to compete in the big league again. Circling back to the €300 million spent by the Blancos, €100 million of those were spent on acquiring the Belgian wizard from the London club Chelsea. Hazard had been long linked with a move to the Spanish Capital, with rumours popping up every summer. These rumours were further fueled up by Hazard making his feelings of playing in the white colours of Real Madrid and his desire to play under his idol Zinedine Zidane public after the 2018 World Cup. His dream didn’t come true immediately as he had to wait another season at the Bridge before getting his dream move to Real Madrid.
A record 50,000 supporters showed up at the Bernabeu for the unveiling of the Belgian maestro. Supporters were optimistic, the previous season had been nothing but a bag full of disappointments for them (apart from the surprise of the starlet Vinicius) and they hoped that the heir to Cristiano had finally arrived and that their problems would end, but Hazard’s life in the capital started out pretty rough.
The Belgian showed up to the first day of training a whooping 5kg overweight, and when the Real Madrid faithful heard (and saw) this, they were absolutely furious. Real Madrid had paid €100 million for this player, he was poised to be their next number 7, he was supposed to be the leader up front alongside Karim Benzema, assisting goals and banging in a few in himself, but he had done something no one would have expected. The fans were disappointed in the Belgian. But Hazard was no quitter, he worked hard, he seemed to have enjoyed his vacation a little too much, but he was training hard to get back to full fitness. His training showed when he scored a beautiful goal wherein he cut inside from the left, effortlessly glided past the defender and fired home in the 19th minute to get his first goal for the all-whites. But his journey at Real Madrid took another hit as he was diagnosed with a muscular injury in his right thigh a few days before Real Madrid’s La Liga opener against Celta Vigo. Eden Hazard was set to be out of action for the next 2-3 weeks.
Due to his injury, Hazard missed the opening 3 games for Madrid in the 19-20 season. He was finally included in the squad to play against Levante at the Santiago Bernabeu. Hazard finally secured his Real Madrid competitive debut by coming on for Casemiro at the hour mark. Hazard made little impact as he played his 30 minutes as Real Madrid held on to secure a narrow 3-2 victory at the Bernabeu after having a 3 goal cushion heading into the second half.
Eden Hazard’s first competitive start came in the next away fixture in the Champions League against the star-studded Paris Saint Germain. As it turned out, the team that was fit to play was not as star-studded as PSG found themselves without the likes of their superstars Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Cavani. Nevertheless, the Belgian’s full debut didn’t go as planned as Real Madrid were trashed 3-0 at the Parc des Princes with a subpar performance from everyone involved. Hazard got 70 minutes of game time and failed to impress the fans and critics alike.
Getting oneself to adapt to a big club is a tough task, and when it is the size of Real Madrid, where the fans have the highest standards, it can become a daunting task for any individual. Real Madrid fans are known to be a demanding set of individuals when it comes to their players. Many great players have had a tough start to life at the Blancos, recent examples being Courtois, who was terrible in his first season, but now is the contender for the Zamora trophy, Modric, who was labelled as the worst signing is now a Balon D’or winner, ending the Messi Ronaldo era, Ferland Mendy, who was also criticised for his performances is now probably the first choice left-back for Zizou. Life isn’t easy in the Spanish Capital, and Eden Hazard was experiencing this first-hand.
A few more games went on for the Belgian as he was involved in the games against Sevilla, Atletico Madrid and Club Brugge out of which Real Madrid won 1 and drew 2. Eden Hazard was showing improvements, but nothing too significant. The Real Madrid fans were getting impatient and these were not good signs for the Belgian. But when the whole world seemed against him, his idol, his mentor and his coach, Zidane showed the utmost belief in him. Zidane always defended Hazard’s performances in press-conferences, trying to keep Hazard’s morale high and not let him be the scapegoat for Madrid’s performances.
But as the season grew, Hazard started finding his rhythm. At the home game against Granada, Hazard finally showed a glimpse of his Chelsea self by scoring a beautiful lobbed goal (also his debut goal) and assisting another for his teammate Luka Modric. The fans finally felt a wave of optimism, they finally believed that Hazard was getting back to his best, and his performance on the pitch certainly helped develop this opinion.
Hazard started getting into his rhythm as he assisted the only Real Madrid goal in their away clash to Galatasaray in the Champions League and then also grabbed an assist in Real Madrid’s 5-0 thrashing of Leganes. Hazard continued his amazing performances but just failed to get the goals as he was missing chances from close range, probably due to the lack of confidence, but it was surely building up. On 9th November, Hazard arguably played his best game in the all-white (prior to the COVID-19 break) against Eibar. Away to Eibar, Real Madrid played absolutely brilliant football with Hazard at the centre of all things good. He was all around the pitch doing his tricks and bamboozling defenders. His Rabona cross into the box certainly got the fans excited for the Belgian. Hazard also won a penalty which his captain Sergio Ramos converted with the utmost ease.
Just as his season was picking up pace, Eden Hazard picked up an injury early into December. Described as “Hairline crack in the foot”. Hazard picked up this injury in their 2-2 home draw against PSG which was another impressive performance by the Belgian. What was initially thought of being a minor injury, sidelining him for just 10 days turned out to be a fracture in his foot and this sidelined him for almost 2 and a half months.
Hazard made his return from injury at home to Celta Vigo, in the 2-2 draw at the Bernabeu, Hazard put up a good performance playing 73 minutes and winning a penalty for his team which was later converted by the captain Ramos (obviously!). But the next game away to Levante would be a big shock for the Merengues. Real Madrid succumbed to a shock defeat at the Ciudad de Valencia conceding a 79th-minute goal and failing to come up with a response, the bigger shock, however, was the supposedly season-ending injury to Eden Hazard. Hazard was taken off the pitch in the 67th minute and the Madrid fans knew something wasn’t right. Two crucial games were just around the corner with Real Madrid facing Manchester City in the Champions League and Barcelona in the league in a span of 5 days. Both games were absolutely crucial to their title challenges in both the tournaments and this was a huge blow to the Blancos. Real Madrid choked in the final 15 minutes against City but came out 2-0 victorious in the Clasico.
Hazard couldn’t have been unluckier. 2 games into the season after his long-term injury and he was out again, and this time for the rest of the season, but the global pandemic worked in his favour. During the global shutdown of football, Hazard worked extremely hard on himself, racing against time to be fit for the reopening for football.
His hard work paid off, Hazard returned to the team and returned with a bang. He was given the start in the first game back from the COVID break and he hit the ground running. He gave defenders all sorts of troubles and at the half an hour mark set up a chance on the plate for his captain Ramos who tapped it in from close range and made it 2-0 to Madrid. Madrid cruised through that game, winning 3-1 and Hazard was hailed for his excellent performance and his brilliant linkup with Karim Benzema, something that seemed not so smooth before the break.
In the next game against Valencia, Real Madrid again hit it off and Hazard was again in fine form as he provided another assist this time setting up Benzema. Hazard was rested against Real Sociedad as he was just back from the injury and Zidane didn’t want to risk him. Hazard then had another brilliant performance against Mallorca where, even though he failed to get a goal or an assist, his performance was lauded by the fans.
Since the return of the La Liga after the COVID break, Hazard has been in fine form linking up with Benzema upfront and showing highlights of his former Chelsea self. Getting Hazard up and running for this final stretch of the League would be extremely beneficial for Zidane and might be a deciding factor on Real’s title contention.
In March of 2020 Hazard said – “I’ll be judged on my second season” and I guess most people would agree with this. Whenever he seemed to be getting into his rhythm he would pick up an injury and this paired with the massive expectations produced a season of misfiring Hazard. But he is slowly finding his form and the Hazard of the 20-21 season would be a force to reckon with.