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Statistical Analysis: Should Real Madrid Sign Eden Hazard?

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While Eden Hazard would improve Real Madrid, his signing would ultimately prove to be superfluous.

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Belgium v England: 3rd Place Playoff - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

Terminology and Acronym Bank

p90 - Per 90 minutes.

Expected Goals (xG) - A model that predicts the likelihood of a goal being scored based on the quality of the shot [here is a more thorough explainer].

NPxGp90 - Non-penalty expected goals per 90 minutes.

Expected Assists (xA) - The number of assists a player is expected to have made based on the quality and quantity of the shots taken directly from their passes.

xGchainp90 - Total xG of every possession a player is involved per 90 minutes.


Eden Hazard has just come off a brilliant World Cup campaign that saw him lead Belgium’s Golden Generation to a third place finish. His tally of 3 goals and 2 assists is impressive on their own, but it was the other things that he did that captured the imagination of fans around the world.

whoscored.com

Against Brazil, Hazard played a critical role in advancing Belgium up the pitch on the counter-attack and evading the Seleção’s counterpress. He completed 100% of his 9 take-ons and drew 7 fouls, something that proved especially crucial in the dying minutes as Belgium looked to waste time.

https://twitter.com/jburnmurdoch/status/1018539266979196930

And that performance was no fluke. In total terms, no one single-handedly advanced the ball more than Eden Hazard in Russia. On a per game basis, only Neymar logged more progressive dribbles, clocking in at 7.8 to Hazard’s 6.1. Whichever way you slice it, Hazard had a brilliant World Cup, and that has sparked rumors that Real Madrid are interested in acquiring his services.

Such transfer gossip is not unfounded, as Hazard has basically begged Florentino Pérez to whip out the checkbook to sign him:

After six wonderful years at Chelsea, it might be time to discover something different [source].

Does Real make me dream less without Zidane? Zidane is someone special, it’s true, but I think Real is everyone’s dream [source].

Los Blancos also have a track record of signing players off the back of excellent World Cup campaigns; think Mesut Özil, Sami Khedira, Toni Kroos, and James Rodríguez. Consequently, it appears that the only obstacles in Real’s way are their own willingness to sign Hazard and Chelsea’s own willingness to sell him. Assuming Roman Abramovich can be convinced by the right price (which is rumored to be around £200 million), the question arises - should Real Madrid go out and buy Hazard?

An Elite Line-Breaker & Chance Creator

As mentioned before, the Chelsea wide-man is brilliant when running at defenders. In the Premier League last season, he logged 6.1 successful dribbles p90 at a ridiculous success rate of 81.3%.

Like Messi and Neymar, the threat Hazard poses with the ball at his feet forces defenders to rush out to close him down. This allows Eden to collapse lines of defense and free up space for teammates that can be accessed with incisive passes. As one would imagine, this type of ability means that Hazard is tasked with leading transition attacks and breaking down deep blocks, making him the critical piece to Chelsea’s attack. Such a role is reflected in his xGchainp90 figure of 0.72, which meant that he was involved in nearly half of Chelsea’s 1.56 xG p90 in the 2017/18 league season. According to Michael Goodman and Statsbomb.com, Hazard also ranked “seventh in the EPL in open play passes into the penalty box p90 with 2.96,” demonstrating the crucial role he plays in breaking down defenses and creating dangerous attacking situations.

When looking at Hazard’s more direct hand in chance creation, the numbers look decidedly more average. He has only ever managed more than 10 assists in the EPL once (in his first year with Chelsea), with a total average of 6.5 assists per league season (he fashioned 4 in 17/18). However, it is worth noting that this statistic is slightly misleading, as Hazard creates a healthy number of chances p90 (2.61 last season) and his teammates’ finishing has generally been poor:

Eden Hazard’s Expected Assists vs. Actual Assists From 2014/15-2017/18

Season Expected Assists Actual Assists
Season Expected Assists Actual Assists
2017/18 7.30 4
2016/17 6.44 5
2015/16 4.18 3
2014/15 11.24 9

Nevertheless, Eden’s 17/18 xA figure of 0.27 falls far short when compared to elite creators, such as Kevin De Bruyne and Mesut Özil, who both notched 0.38 xA p90 in the EPL last season.

A clever fan might argue that the defensive systems Hazard has been forced to play in has limited his full attacking potential. That is a valid point and there should be little doubt that Hazard’s goal creation would improve if he came to Madrid. When again compared to De Bruyne and Özil, but this time based on xA per chance, Hazard ends up looking much better:

Hazard: ~0.103

De Bruyne: ~0.125

Özil: ~0.109

Given Real Madrid’s historical emphasis on attacking football and the plethora of offensive talent in the side, it isn’t hard to envisage Hazard creating an extra half chance p90, thereby allowing him to rank alongside the very best chance creators in the world.

Not an Elite Goal Scorer

However, while Hazard is excellent at creating chaos, opening up defenses, and fashioning shooting opportunities for others, he is not an elite goal scorer. His non-penalty xG p90 stands at a mediocre 0.25 (0.26 in 16/17 and 0.24 in 14/15) and he only managed a total of 10 non-penalty goals in the league last season (12, if you add in the penalties). As the xG p90 figure would suggest, Hazard simply hasn’t gotten into enough quality goal scoring situations with any serious regularity over his Chelsea career.

understat.com

While his shot locations are actually quite decent for a wide player, he doesn’t produce nearly enough volume to be a regular goal threat. The 2.61 shots p90 he took in 17/18 are the most he’s ever managed in his league career, with only 1.6 of those shots arriving in the penalty area and 0.1 coming in the six-yard box.

A clever fan might again argue that this is due to the defensive systems Hazard has had to play in, but that logic falls flat when the man himself has made it clear that he prefers to play this way:

I often ask myself what I can do to become like Messi and Ronaldo and score 50 or 60 goals in a season. I try of course but I realize that I will never be a true scorer. It’s not in me. It is mainly mental [source].

I think, in football now, if you want to win something like the Ballon d’Or or [to be the] top-scorer, you need to be selfish. But I’m not like this, not at all. I’m just who I am [source].

Julen Lopetegui would have to force a massive psychological shift in Hazard to make the winger a volume goal-getter at the Bernabéu, something that seems unlikely given the manager’s preference for shoving as many pass-happy playmakers into his teams as possible.

The best bet for turning Hazard into a more regular scorer would be for him to stay at Stamford Bridge and lead the new Chelsea project under Maurizio Sarri. The flamboyant tactician had the lesser talented (but still brilliant) Lorenzo Insigne averaging 0.40 NPxGp90 off of 5.11 shots p90 in Serie A last season. However, it is worth noting that Insigne still had an eye for goal and a desire to shoot prior to Sarri’s arrival (Insigne averaged 0.3 NPxGp90 off of 3.66 shots p90 in 2014/15), so it remains questionable to assume that Hazard’s goal total would explode under even someone as offensively aggressive as the Italian manager.

Hazard Doesn’t Fill a Need

As has been established above, Eden Hazard is not an elite goal scorer and the chance that he becomes one is slim. Unfortunately, goals are exactly what Real Madrid need at the moment. Real Madrid’s only legitimate option at the center forward position is an aging Karim Benzema who has been on the decline since 2016/17. And as promising as Mayoral may still seem, a grand total of 1353 minutes over the past two seasons is not enough experience to be the first-choice back-up (let alone proper competition for Benzema) next season.

The counterargument to this would probably be a scenario that assumes that Hazard will score 20+ goals a season (based on the logic that Lopetegui can make him significantly more aggressive) and that Benzema will receive more goal scoring opportunities due to the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo. The first assumption is highly questionable, as mentioned before, but the second claim has some merit.

There is no doubt that Benzema has not scored as much as he could’ve due to the false nine role he has had to play for most of his partnership with Ronaldo. The one time Benzema was deployed as a pure-ish number nine (which was in 2015/16), he notched 0.93 xG p90 and scored at a rate of over 1 goal every 90 minutes. However, that was Karim when he was in his prime - aged 27-28. Now 30 years old, he is a tad slower, a little less sharp, and a poorer finisher; over the past two seasons he has scored just under 60% of his expected goal total. While it is reasonable to assume that he will experience some kind of resurgence in 2018/19, it is sheer fantasy to think that Benzema and Hazard will combine to make up for the 0.94 NPxGp90 Ronaldo provided in 17/18 and the 40-50 goals Cristiano has scored in every season since 2010/11 (it is also worth noting that this is not a zero-sum game - i.e. that one goal taken away from Ronaldo is one goal given to Benzema - as at least a portion of CR7’s goals came from his own unparalleled ability to get into goal scoring situations) Even if you add Bale - who is Real Madrid’s best goal scorer post-Ronaldo - to the equation, severe uncertainty remains due to his abysmal injury history.

Real Madrid need a proven goal scorer to make up for most of Ronaldo’s lost production. With Mbappe looking like an impossible target and Kane seemingly happy with his situation at Tottenham, Madrid will have to be content to sign stop-gap options that will provide them with goals until a better and/or younger forward becomes available. Lewandowski remains an excellent and realistic option, with on-the-move players like Higuaín also capable of doing the job.

Why Not Sign Both Hazard AND a New Striker?

Because Real Madrid already have plenty of players that replicate Eden’s qualities. While no one on the squad is as good a dribbler as he is, Lopetegui is already blessed with a plethora of line-breakers who thrive on the indirect offensive creation that makes Hazard special: Kroos provides excellent vertical passing and press resistance; Modric provides those skills in addition to superior locomotion; Kovacic is a potent cocktail of agility, acceleration, epic close control, and dribbling ability; Ceballos provides similar qualities and a wicked through ball; Bale offers pace on the counter-attack; Lucas provides classic width and accurate crosses; Isco provides high-volume dribbling and final third chance creation; and Asensio contains an explosive burst and an underrated sense of offensive positioning.

Nonetheless, it’s still hard to argue that Hazard wouldn’t provide more on the left-wing than his positional competitors Isco and Asensio. However, it is doubtful if the upgrade Hazard would provide would be worth giving significantly less minutes to Marco. At 27 years old, Eden is likely set to provide only 2-3 more seasons at his current level before starting to decline. While that is a short window, it would probably be enough time to break Asensio’s patience and force him to move elsewhere.

That would be problematic, since Ronaldo’s departure has created an opportune moment to begin the transition to the next generation of Real Madrid stars. Most of Los Blancos’ core - Marcelo, Modric, Ramos, Benzema, etc. - are 30 or older and should be tasked with handing over the reigns to their younger counterparts. Signing Eden Hazard would throw a wrench in this project by unnecessarily stunting Asensio’s growth, thereby sending a signal that the Spaniard is still not trusted. And if a 22 year old prodigy with experience on the biggest Champions League nights can’t be trusted to receive more regular minutes now, then when?

At the end of the day, it is difficult to argue that Eden Hazard wouldn’t improve Real Madrid. He is an elite line-breaker who creates a sizable amount of chances in a defensive system. Despite this, he doesn’t solve Madrid’s goal problem and Los Merengues already have a young, high-ceiling left-winger waiting in the ranks. For those reasons, it is ultimately difficult to view the signing of Eden Hazard as anything other than superfluous.


All un-hyperlinked statistics are taken from understat.com