Karim Benzema-Eden Hazard partnership has changed the picture for Real Madrid

Something has changed at the Santiago Bernabu since the resumption of the Spanish Liga season – or the Estadio Alfredo di Stefano as Real Madrid’s home stadium is until the end of the 2019/20 campaign. They have taken their time, but Zinedine Zidane’s side have finally found their groove.

Indeed, Los Blancos have won all four of the matches they have played since the return of La Liga to rise to the top of the table. Victory over bottom side Espanyol on Sunday will see them go two points clear of Barcelona, putting them in pole position to win over their second league title in eight years.

There have been a number of different factors behind this resurgence, but the developing partnership between Karim Benzema and Eden Hazard has fundamentally changed the landscape for the club. This is the duo around which Zidane now seemingly plans on building his entire side around.

Real Madrid have struggled for attacking cohesion ever since the moment Cristiano Ronaldo swapped the Spanish capital for Turin, joining Juventus in the summer of 2018. Benzema picked up some of the slack somewhat last season, but Los Blancos struggled to fill the void left by their record top scorer.

Hazard was signed as the heir to Ronaldo, but the Belgian is a very different sort of player. It wasn’t clear until a few weeks where exactly he would fit into the Real Madrid team, with injuries fragmenting his first season in the Spanish capital. Now, though, the picture is much clearer.

Benzema and Hazard operate on the same wavelength. They have only been teammates for a year, not even a full season yet, but they recognise each others’ runs, each others’ movements. Some players just get one and other, and Benzema and Hazard certainly seem to be among them. Their partnership seems natural, as if it comes easily to them.

If Real Madrid are to clinch the championship, dethroning Barcelona as the kings of Spanish football, it will likely be on the back of Benzema and Hazard’s relationship. Others are contributing, with Marco Asensio back from injury, Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane forming a defensive wall at the back and Luka Modric back in form, but it’s the Belgian and the Frenchman at the head of the attack driving Los Blancos forward.

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Are things finally clicking into place for Real Madrid?

Real Madrid could never have predicted the circumstances amid which it would materialise, but in the second half of Thursday’s 3-0 win over Valencia Los Blancos produced a performance close to what they had always envisaged for this group of players. It wasn’t perfect, but nearer to that mark than anything witnessed up until then this season.

Until that point, many had debated and discussed what exactly Zinedine Zidane wanted from his Real Madrid side. What he wanted them to be. The Frenchman had steadied the Santiago Bernabeu side, appointed late last season to get a head start on the 2019/20 campaign, but a lot of questions remained unanswered.

Thursday night might prove to be a turning point in this season’s title race and in Zidane’s second stint in charge of the capital club. With Eden Hazard fit again, a burgeoning understanding with Karim Benzema evident and Marco Asensio back on a football pitch after a year out of the game through injury,

There was movement all over the pitch. Ferland Mendy provided drive down the left side, contributing an excellent assist for Asensio’s goal with his first touch off the bench. Dani Carvajal offered something similar on the opposite flank which allowed Hazard the freedom to cut inside and link up with Benzema. The two players appear to operate on the same wavelength.

A midfield trio of Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Ernesto Valverde gave Real Madrid the right balance of control and energy in the centre of the pitch, with the usual centre back pairing of Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane backing them up. All of a sudden, things came together very quickly for Real Madrid.

Of course, Los Blancos have produced impressive performances before this season. They have managed to keep pace with Barcelona at the top of La Liga and have put a number of opposition sides to the sword in the process. The problem is they have suffered nearly as many dips as peaks.

This time it felt different, though. In the past, Real Madrid’s best performances had been the byproduct of a sparking individual display by Benzema or someone else. Their performance against Valencia, however, was a result of their performance as a whole. Their new identity, which was evident perhaps for the first time this season.

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Zinedine Zidane cannot count on Eden Hazard’s return any longer

He was the marquee addition of Real Madrid’s summer. Eden Hazard had been on the Santiago Bernabeu club’s radar for a number of years and so there was a sense of accomplishment when the Belgian finally pitched up in the Spanish capital before the start of this season, costing around £100 million from Chelsea.

Hazard was signed to be the natural heir to Cristiano Ronaldo. Real Madrid had failed to replace the Portuguese forward since he left for Juventus in the summer of 2018 and so Hazard was meant to be the new face of the capital club. So far, though, Hazard’s face has barely been seen in all-white.

Injuries have all but devastated Hazard’s first season at Real Madrid. The Belgian was forced to wait until the middle of September to make his debut for his new club and even after that there were lingering concerns over his fitness. Some even accused the former Chelsea and Lille man of being overweight, something the player himself admitted to being the case afterwards.

An ankle injury then ruled Hazard out of the first Clasico of the season at the start of December. The Belgian hasn’t played since. He is back in first team training, but there are concerns that Real Madrid’s new number seven could still miss as much as another month of action.

Hazard has never been one to hit the ground running after injury and so even if he were to return soon it will likely take him a number of weeks to find match sharpness. That would take the Belgian all the way to the final month of the season. He is just one more set back from his first season in Spain being a complete write off.

Indeed, Zidane cannot count on the return of Hazard any time soon. The stakes will be cranked up for Real Madrid over the next few weeks and months with the Spanish title race and the Champions League moving forward and so Zidane must focus on what is immediately in front of him.

It might well be the case that Hazard can contribute in the final few weeks of the season, but Zidane must reward the likes of Rodrygo and Vinicius Junior for the way they have stepped up in the Belgian’s absence. They have earned the faith of their manager and a half-fit Hazard must remain on the sidelines for the time being.

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Barcelona and Real Madrid game ends goalless but these two teams have pulled away in La Liga

True it was expected that this seasons tussle for the La Liga title would come down to Barcelona and Real Madrid and so it seems to have passed. The two teams played out a 0-0 draw in midweek and both are on 36 points. They have a 5 point advantage to 3rd place in the league standings.

The disappointment this season seems to lie with Atletico Madrid who under Diego Simeone have a fantastic team but the club have just been off the pace in the last few months and have just 29 points. Whilst it is realistically possible for them to bridge the gap to Madrid and Barca it does seem as if the club are playing more for Champions League glory after their disappointments in 2 finals this decade.

Back to El Clasico and this was the first match to end goalless since 2002. Then at a match which was also at the Nou Camp, Madrid player Luis Figo had a pigs head thrown at him- he had just switched from Barcelona. This match was a tense affair and Madrid at times probably deserved the win. Gareth Bale was harshly ruled off side as he thought he had put his team 1-0 up. Yes it was offside but when we are talking millimetres surely the player is not evidently cheating. If common sense can’t take hold hopefully UEFA and FIFA will bang their heads together and change the offside rule.

Madrid played well though and for long periods bossed the game away from home, this is something they have rarely done on their visits here. There was of course a lot of tension connected to this match with the political uprising suspending this match from a few weeks ago. Inevitably arrests were made outside the stadium and one could fathom that Barcelona’s players were not 100% focused on the game. Whilst the movement is of high importance and nobody is denying that it is unfortunate that it has overshadowed perhaps the biggest game in world football.

La Liga for the first time this season seems to be a two horse race and these great rivals will lock horns for much of the season it feels. Despite winning an incredible 3 Champions League trophies in a row Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane only won 1 league title in his first spell at Madrid. One wonders if that could play against him. There just feels like there is something missing at Madrid, perhaps another star dust player. The league will reveal itself soon enough. Gone are the days of Messi v Ronaldo now it is more like Messi v Hazard- who will come out on top?

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Karim Benzema’s lack of supply line is Real Madrid’s biggest problem

Just as Eden Hazard looked to be finding his feet as a Real Madrid player, injury struck. Again. Of course, the Belgian had to wait a number of weeks for his first appearance for his new club after suffering an injury right at the end of pre-season. Now, Hazard is on the sidelines with an ankle injury which is widely expected to rule him out of next week’s Clasico.

On his day, there aren’t many better than Hazard in the European game right now. He has the ability to win a match almost entirely on his own, but his biggest benefit to Real Madrid right now is in the supply line he offers Karim Benzema. The partnership between Benzema and Hazard has the potential to carry Real Madrid a long way.

There were signs of a growing understanding between the two players before Hazard’s injury. Now that the Belgian is ruled out for the time being, the lack of a supply line for Benzema has become Real Madrid’s biggest problem, the thing that could compromise their whole season.

The issue has been mitigated in recent weeks by the form of Rodrygo. The Brazilian teenager has exploded on to the scene this season, but he is still of a very tender age and can’t be expected to carry Real Madrid on a weekly basis. Then there’s Vinicius Junior, Real Madrid’s other teenage Brazilian.

After a shaky start to the season which had some questioning whether a loan away from the Santiago Bernabeu would be best for the youngster, Vinicius has rediscovered some of last season’s form. But he remains a volatile sort of player. A lack of final product has been Vinicius’ problem from the moment he broke through.

Gareth Bale has played well at times this season, but he too is sidelined through injury. What’s more, the Welshman is expected to finally leave the Spanish capital in the not so distant future. And Marco Asensio is predicted to miss all of the 2019/20 campaign after suffering an ACL injury in the summer.

Benzema is the face of Real Madrid in the post-Cristiano Ronaldo age. He is the player Zinedine Zidane has built around in an attempt to take the club back to the top of the Spanish and European game, but he might not have the building blocks to do that.

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Why Real Madrid are getting better every week under Zinedine Zidane

For Real Madrid there will be enquiries into why their Champions League campaign has not started off on the front foot, but in the league everything seems to be taking shape, with coach Zinedine Zidane perhaps in the midst of his most difficult and testing season.

Last night Real could only draw with Belgian side Club Brugges at the Santiago Bernabeu which led to the inevitable boos, though in truth the match, which finished 2-2, would have felt like a small victory after the home side found themselves 2-0 down.

That match followed their first game in the group stages where they were easily beaten by PSG in Paris by 3-0. The defeat in Paris was probably overblown- a lot of very good teams are going to lose their this season, true the result wasn’t good but it wasn’t catastrophic either. What followed felt much more important.

So it was back to La Liga where Madrid had been making heavy weather of their results, to be fair eternal rivals Barcelona were too. But the fixture list did not look good for Zidane’s men. Following the PSG defeat they would have to play early front runners Sevilla away from home and also stay on the road to play the derby against Atletico Madrid, a side genuinely after the La Liga title this season.

Many thought that down south in Spain, Madrid would falter and yet they didn’t-they won and kept a clean sheet to boot. The final score reflected the closeness of the game with a 1-0 result, but that was still 3 massive points for Los Blancos.

The next match was set up as two genuine rivals for the league went head to head in Madrid, and that match ended 0-0 with the majority of the game being a midfield battle which became quite fascinating to watch. Eden Hazard in particular was given praise for getting physically stuck into the match. Hazard has arguably struggled this season for the club despite coming back from injury, but he should improve over time.

The draw at Atletico has suddenly put Madrid on top of the standings, albeit on goal difference and a top squeeze down to 5th place but still amongst all the criticism’s and the bla bla bla, Madrid under Zidane are top of the league and that is all that matters.

There will, of course, be more twists and turns and Madrid do not look like the polished finished article just yet. But with Gareth Bale to come back from injury and some emerging talent in the form of Rodrygo et all there is a lot of hope for Madrid. They need to steady that Champions League ship though.

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Real Madrid need Eden Hazard to hit the ground running

It was somewhat remarkable that having spent around £300 million on new players Real Madrid started their La Liga campaign with not one of those new signings in their starting lineup. Indeed, Zinedine Zidane has been forced to rely on the same old faces over the past few weeks.

Injuries have crippled the capital club over the early part of the season, with Eden Hazard ruled out of action through a thigh injury. The Belgian was Real Madrid’s marquee signing this summer, joining from Chelsea in a transfer worth around £100 million. Many see him as the natural heir to Cristiano Ronaldo.

However, Hazard has been made to wait for his Real Madrid debut. Meanwhile, his new team has struggled to get going, winning just one of their opening three La Liga fixtures, drawing at home to Real Valladolid and losing away to Villarreal. We’re only just into September and Atletico Madrid already hold a five-point lead over their city rivals.

A familiar sense of malaise has taken grip at the Santiago Bernabeu with some already suggesting that Zidane could resign in frustration over the club’s favour to sign him a central midfielder (namely Paul Pogba) in the summer transfer window. Real Madrid’s troubles will take a long time to untangle.

And so Real Madrid need Hazard to hit the ground running whenever he does return from injury. Recent reports state that the Belgian is stepping up his recovery and could make his debut once the September international break is out of the way. That moment cannot come quick enough for the capital club.

Before his injury there were concerns over Hazard’s fitness. Indeed, the 28-year-old looked to have enjoyed himself a little too much over the summer, turning in a number of sluggish performances over pre-season. Nonetheless, Real Madrid have invested a lot of time, having chased him for over two years, and money in the Belgian. He will be expected to deliver from the very start.

It’s possible that Hazard could make his competitive debut for his new team against Levante. Real Madrid already have ground to make up at the top of the Spanish Liga table and they need their best players to step up and make a difference. Hazard is one of those players and having missed the first few games of the season he can’t afford to waste any more time.

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Sarriball still loading in Turin

Despite replacing Massimiliano Allegri’s conservatism with Sarriball, Juventus still looked lethargic in attack and shaky at the back. At times, the bianconeri had all eleven players behind the ball, conceding the entire pitch to Parma. While Roberto D’Aversa’s men will prove hard to break down this season, they’re no Real Madrid and Juventus should have looked to remain on the front foot.

Juventus started the game with no new signings in the lineup and went with Douglas Costa, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Gonzalo Higuain up front. The trio did just enough to secure the three points, despite their Portuguese superstar proving wasteful.

Ronaldo’s inefficiency in front of goal was surprising, but Juve’s lack of movement was even more worrying. When Miralem Pjanic was in possession, the Bosnian international rarely had options and was typically forced to spread the ball wide.

Maurizio Sarri has identified the player as his regista, however, the former Roma midfielder doesn’t look suited to the role. Pjanic is the type of player that likes to dribble with the ball at his feet, while Sarri’s ideal regista takes a maximum of two touches before relinquishing it. Take Jorginho, for example. The Chelsea midfielder is constantly involved in his side’s buildup play and is regularly on the move out of possession.

Pjanic, by contrast, needs to be the one playing the final ball in the final third, otherwise, his creativity is wasted. The reality is, he couldn’t be more different than Jorginho. This is one crucial, fundamental difference between Sarri’s sides in the past and Juventus today. However, let’s be clear: Sarri will have an easier time instilling his philosophy when Adrien Rabiot and Aaron Ramsey become regulars.

In attack, Sarri will encounter further headaches. While Higuain or Dybala suffice as strikers, Ronaldo and Douglas Costa aren’t exactly ‘Sarriball’ wingers. Both like to take on the opposition and tend to drift around the pitch freely.

As it concerns Ronaldo, that shouldn’t be an issue as he will be handed carte blanche like Eden Hazard was at Chelsea. However, with Ronaldo moving positions at will, the other winger must be disciplined positionally. For all his strengths, that’s not the first quality you tend to associate with Douglas Costa. The Brazilian is electric in possession and is Juventus’ best one vs one winger, but usually floats around the pitch. At Napoli, Jose Callejon acted as this wide-man as Lorenzo Insigne and Dries Mertens interchanged positions.

The Spaniard’s second-post runs were a crucial aspect to Sarriball and will be something the veteran tactician will be hoping to introduce via Douglas Costa. Otherwise, he will likely turn to Federico Bernardeschi on the bench.

Until the bianconeri’s attack are comfortable with the intricacies of Sarri’s system, the Juventus we see from week-to-week will be closer to their former boss than their current one. Sarri himself mentioned it would take him six months before his football is in full flow, and it’s clear to see why. While it’s still early days, the notable differences between Juventus’ roster and Sarri’s former sides are still a cause for concern. After all, as good as Pjanic and Douglas Costa are, he’s arguably a regista and a winger away from his ideal eleven.

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Eden Hazard already has doubters to prove wrong at Real Madrid

He was Real Madrid’s marquee summer signing. Eden Hazard had been trailed by the Spanish giants for a number of years and this summer they finally got their man, paying Chelsea around £100 million to sign the Belgian. He was, in the eyes of many, the natural successor to Cristiano Ronaldo who left the Santiago Bernabeu one year previously.

On his day, Hazard is indeed one of the best players in world football. He demonstrated this over ____ years at Chelsea. It was little surprise that Real Madrid prioritised his signing. Hazard has the sort of X factor that players need to succeed in the Spanish capital.

He hasn’t shown that so far, though. The 2019/20 season has yet to start in Spain, but Hazard is already finding that he has more than a few doubters to prove wrong. Pre-season has been difficult for Real Madrid and the Belgian has become the embodiment of these struggles.

For starters, questions have been asked about Hazard’s weight since he returned from his off-season break. The Belgian has always been a little stocky, but it’s true that over pre-season he looked a little heavier than usual. Whether this was enough to compromise his performances on the pitch is another matter, but it has provided critics with ammunition.

There are also questions over where the former Chelsea man will fit into Zinedine Zidane’s team. Vinicius Junior broke through last season and looked to have nailed down a place as a regular starter for Real Madrid. But surely there’s no place for both the Brazilian teenager and Hazard in the same side given that they play off the same wing?

What’s more, Hazard has picked up a hamstring injury that will rule him out of action for the first few weeks of the new season. With Marco Asensio already on the sidelines, set to miss the whole season with a torn ACL, this leaves Zidane somewhat short on attacking options following a summer when close to £300 million was largely spent on attackers.

It already feels like Real Madrid’s season is spiralling out of control and they haven’t even played a competitive game yet. Defeat to Celta Vigo this weekend would see the pressure heaped on Zidane and Hazard could also find himself a target. Some believe his lack of professionalism is a problem.

The Belgian will likely come good in Spain. It’s far too early to make any firm judgements, but Hazard already has his doubters and such is the nature of the football scene in the Spanish capital it will take a lot to silence them.

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Is this Real Madrid’s strongest lineup for next season?

With Zinedine Zidane now settled back in charge at the Santiago Bernabeu, he has some decisions to make regarding Real Madrid’s strongest eleven for the coming season.

Incoming stars like Eden Hazard and Luka Jovic will most certainly be taking their place in the starting lineup in what could be a 4-3-3 formation for the Spanish giants.

Goalkeeper

Zidane seems to prefer Keylor Navas as a first-choice goalkeeper. However, with the Costa Rican international now 32, Zidane may decide to opt for Thibaut Courtois this season with the Belgian only 27 and entering what should be the ‘prime years’ of his career. Continue reading