Real Madrid: How set is Eden Hazard’s starting spot?

Real Madrid, Eden Hazard (Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images)
Real Madrid, Eden Hazard (Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images) /

When Real Madrid spent 100 million euros to sign Eden Hazard from Chelsea in the summer 2019 transfer window, they did so thinking that the Belgian would be their clear superstar who could lead the “Revolution” at the Santiago Bernabeu and give the club some margin for error with their attacking youngsters like Luka Jovic and Vinicius Junior. Instead, Hazard has been in and out of the lineup due to injuries, and he hasn’t been elite when he starts either.

The criticisms of Hazard, though, can sometimes be overblown. You can head to social media and you’ll quickly see droves of fans proclaiming that Hazard is “useless” or has offered “nothing”. Of course, these statements are unfair and largely born out of frustration. Hazard has been useful. In the Fall of 2019 before that fateful injury against PSG and Thomas Meunier, Hazard was leading Real Madrid to dominant attacking performances.

Even this season, Hazard’s been an asset for Los Blancos at times. He scored a brilliant goal and led the way in a 4-1 win over Huesca, he was crucial off the bench in the comeback at the Borussia-Park, and he had two strong performances against Inter Milan.

But recently, Hazard, having returned from another injury, has been a non-factor. He has disappointed Madridistas off the bench in a loss to Alcoyano and as a starter against Osasuna in a 0-0 draw. That Huesca game I mentioned? It is the only time Real Madrid have won a game in La Liga this season with Hazard on the pitch. He has made just six appearances thus far.

Eden Hazard is supposed to be Real Madrid’s best player

Clearly, Hazard needs to step up. Injuries have derailed another season of his with Real, and they have played a role in his lack of momentum. At the same time, it is fair for fans to expect more from a player who is capable of more, especially since he is their last major signing at a time when the club may not be able to afford another big signing for a few more years.

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Hazard should be Real Madrid’s best player, when looking at his talent. When he has been at his best, Los Blancos have, likewise, been at their best. His importance to the team is clear. And Real have the added incentive of wanting to start him as much as possible when he’s healthy, because they have so much invested in him.

At the same time, Real cannot start Hazard for the sake of starting a player who can be a superstar and who cost (past tense) the most money. Zinedine Zidane, particularly now that his seat is hot again, has an obligation to start the best players.

On paper, Hazard is the best left winger Real Madrid have. But he is not the only option, and if the production continues to underwhelm, Zidane can go to those options.

Rodrygo Goes should be “Plan B”, but he is injured. Even so, Marco Asensio and Vinicius Junior are worth considering. Asensio has been excellent on the left-hand side this season, even as he has been disappointing on the right. He’s shown signs of improvement recently, too.

Vinicius has been just as disappointing as Hazard in recent weeks and was horrible against Alcoyano. But he is important to Real Madrid in the long-term and has the most upside of any of Real’s forwards, with the possible exception of Rodrygo. Therefore, Real should have a vested interest in playing Vinicius, too. And when Vini has the trust of his teammates and coaching staff, he plays at a high level. Look no further than his performances early this season or against big clubs like Atletico Madrid and Barcelona in the second half of the 2019-2020 season.

Real Madrid should be patient with Eden Hazard. They cannot afford to be as reactionary as the fans who already proudly proclaim Hazard a failure and call him worthless, as if they are rooting for the man to flop. Yet Real cannot go to the other extreme and start Hazard over, say, Asensio, if they feel the latter of the two gives the team a better chance to win at the all-important left wing position.

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Los Blancos need to get more out of their attack quickly. They’ve struggled offensively for weeks now. Hazard has the talent to be the antidote, and while he is still the starter, his grasp on the position is indeed slipping. All it takes is a couple of more below-average performances mixed with strong displays from Asensio or Vinicius off the bench, and Zidane may have to relegate a man who was the Premier League’s best player for the better part of a decade.