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Real Madrid’s biggest problem right now? Eden Hazard

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Eden Hazard’s move to Real Madrid has been years in the making. It is common for a megastar player to play down speculation of a big-money move, but the Belgian was always honest about his desire to play at the Bernabeu.

Equally, the attacking midfielder has been on the radar of the Spanish giants for quite some time. “I would take Eden Hazard with my eyes closed,” Zinedine Zidane said all the way back in 2010, when the now-manager was a presidential advisor.

It’s a match made in heaven. A club that has shunned “box office” signings in recent seasons had brought in a worthy and willing talent to fill their vaunted No. 7 shirt.

Real Madrid president Florentino Perez undoubtedly felt confident that he would recoup much of the $109 million transfer fee in shirt sales. After all, what could go wrong in signing the man who may have been the Premier League’s best player of the past few seasons?

Unfortunately, Hazard’s start to life in the Spanish capital has been well below par. In five appearances so far this season, he has failed to register a single goal or assist.

Real Madrid has stumbled in Champions League play so far, and Eden Hazard is their main problem. (Getty)
Real Madrid has stumbled in Champions League play so far, and Eden Hazard is their main problem. (Getty)

Eden Hazard’s Real Madrid start vs. Chelsea last season

By contrast, at the same point last season, he had already scored six goals, including a hat-trick against Cardiff. Hazard was crowned Premier League Player of the Month for September for his role as the talisman of a then-unbeaten Chelsea side. His auspicious start carried on, and he led the Blues to a Europa League title, a top-three finish and a League Cup final — in spite of general fan displeasure concerning manager Maurizio Sarri.

Hazard’s Real Madrid stats also make for depressing reading. According to WhoScored, his La Liga output so far consists of an average of one shot per game, 1.3 key passes and 1.3 dribbles. With Chelsea in the league last season, he averaged 2.5 shots per game, 2.6 key passes and 3.7 dribbles.

Of course, the sample size is much smaller for Los Blancos, but it is clear that Hazard has not hit the ground running in Madrid.

His first start for Real Madrid came against Paris Saint-Germain, on an evening that turned out to be quite forgettable for his entire team. In the 3-0 loss at the Parc des Princes, Hazard created no chances and completed no key passes in a completely anonymous performance. He was replaced by Lucas Vazquez after 70 minutes.

It was a similar story in last weekend’s Madrid derby against Atletico, where he completed only a single dribble and took nearly half as many touches as his teammate Toni Kroos. His Atleti counterpart Thomas Partey completely stole the show — and the ball from Hazard’s feet on more than one occasion.

And in Tuesday’s salvaged home draw against Club Brugge, the Belgian played no part in the second-half comeback that earned the hosts a 2-2 draw.

Hazard looks unfit, out of place and unable to influence games.

What could be wrong with Eden Hazard?

Spanish newspaper Marca claim that the only Galactico signing brought in by Perez to have a worse start was Michael Owen, who didn’t register his first goal until October 19th of his freshman Spanish season. However, the English striker did manage an assist within his first four games, so it could be argued that his start was actually better than Hazard’s.

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Could it be that Chelsea squeezed his best years out of him and offloaded him at the perfect time? Perhaps Hazard doesn’t possess the kind of ruthlessness needed to thrive within the confines of the system used by the Spanish giants?

It is possible that Hazard is experiencing an abrupt and irreversible decline — he would not be the first soccer star to see their form fall off a cliff after making a big move — but this is also fairly unlikely.

“As I said at my presentation, I am not yet a Galactico,” said Hazard last week, acknowledging his slow start. “I have to be the one to prove it. We know very well the previous No. 7s at this club and I have to prove that I can be the best in the world. I don't doubt myself, I trust myself.”

Not only does Hazard possess the requisite self-belief to succeed, but he has the faith of the manager who has admired his talents for the past decade.

“What is Hazard lacking?” Zidane asked after the disappointing Madrid derby. “Not much. We have to get behind him. He put a real good shift in.”

Zidane’s definition of a “real good shift” may leave a lot to be desired, but it must be noted that Hazard’s performances have generally been on par with those of his teammates. Los Blancos may be top of the Spanish League right now, but they’re rife with problems.

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Hazard’s former Chelsea colleague Thibaut Courtois, for example, is having a torrid time (see: Brugge’s opening goal on Tuesday). Luka Modric’s fitness is questionable, Casemiro has played below the expected standard, and the fullbacks Nacho and Dani Carvajal would be unlikely to make the starting XIs of other European behemoths.

At halftime on Tuesday, when Real Madrid were 2-0 down and bereft of ideas, it looked as if Zidane’s job was in serious danger. Questions were asked of his tactics, his summer purchases and his decision to return to the club where he had nothing left to prove.

If Real Madrid were functioning to their collective potential right now, it stands to reason that Hazard’s performances would be better. A rising tide lifts all ships.

The Belgian must work on his fitness, but he must also be given more time to assimilate himself in a new team and league before he is judged.

His first month in Madrid may not have been productive, but the real test lays near the end of his second month. On October 26, Los Blancos will head to the Camp Nou to face bitter rival Barcelona. Matches against Granada, Mallorca and Galatasaray will come before the trip, and each should give Hazard the opportunity to tune up.

El Clasico is precisely the kind of game that Hazard was signed for. And it is the stage on which he can prove his worth in a white shirt.

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