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A Reflection On Eden Hazard’s First Season At Real Madrid

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Analyzing Eden Hazard’s first season in white — the good, the bad, and what to expect from him in his second season.

UEFA Champions League”Real Madrid v Paris Saint-Germain”

“I will be judged on the performances of next season.”

That was the statement from Eden Hazard when he was asked about his Real Madrid career in a recent interview.

But the main question is: Has Hazard had enough time to actually heal from his ankle injury and get back to his best?

Last season ended for Real Madrid on August 8th. After that, each player went on vacation for a little while. Hazard had time to rest and prepare mentally and physically for the new season. A fresh start, you could call it. That is something that could be very important considering how mentally disturbed he would’ve been after experiencing one injury after the other last term. It will be a crucial year for both Real Madrid and him individually, as he now has something to prove: Fans will expect to see the Hazard they saw at Chelsea, and those expectations are justified. Real Madrid paid Chelsea for Hazard at his peak — and that is what they should expect. Hazard has wanted this move for far too long for it to be overshadowed by injuries. Likewise, the fans have wanted it for far too long for them to be left disappointed.

Here’s the positive: It has only been one season. Hazard is still 29, and he has a few years left at the top-level.

In this article, I have divided Hazard’s season into three parts:

  1. The matches that he played before the stretch of his seven best games.
  2. The seven best games.
  3. The games he played after injury.

1. Before Attaining Full Fitness

Eden Hazard was unfit for the first few matches of the 2019 - 2020 season. He was overweight and was struggling with the injury he picked up in the pre-season friendlies. Even statistically, there are significant differences in quality between this part of the season and the next. During this time, The Belgian averaged 1.16 key passes per game. For a player who has had an average of 2.85 in his last season at Chelsea, that’s incredibly disappointing.

Even on the ball, Hazard looked sluggish, tired and short of ideas in the attacking third. The winger had a shocking 42.6% dribble completion rate. (In case you didn’t know, he is often regarded as one of the best and most efficient dribblers of his generation.)

As for creating chances, the Belgian averaged only 2.3 SCA (shot-creating actions) per game before he regained fitness and form. Again, comparing it with his last season at Chelsea (6.37 SCAs per game), he regressed.

Forget statistics, though. Hazard didn’t look good on the eye test. The usual “aesthetically-pleasing Hazard” didn’t look very pleasing. It caused turmoil among the fans. “He’s just taking it very lightly.” To be fair, they had a point. But everything started to change really soon. Hazard started to get better and better, after every game he played.

2. The Best Games

Even though it was heavily injury-ridden, Hazard’s first season did have its good moments — particularly for a stretch of seven games where he played very well. In those matches, he reminded the fans what he’s truly capable of. He didn’t get his name on the scoresheet, but he was a joy to watch.

In hindsight, that’s exactly why you probably shouldn’t be worried: As I said, this time around, Hazard would do things differently, in a positive way. That’s why I’m still confident of him being a great and crucial player next season. His statistics took a giant leap in those seven games; into the usual Hazard territory. He averaged five completed dribbles per game with a completion rate of 72.8% — a jump of more than 32% from his previous average. He averaged 2.14 key passes per game in those game. It still wasn’t near his career-best of 3.09, but it is still a respectable figure and certainly a lot better than the first bunch of games he played. Now, to make things even more interesting, Hazard averaged 5.2 SCA per game, which blows his first average out of the water. He ran things in the offensive end and attracted a lot of bodies towards him so that his teammates can make runs. The Belgian superstar was always looking for spaces to pounce. Long story short, bar goals, he gave the fans what they wanted.

Now, let’s look at match-by-match statistics of his best run of the season.

Matches

Galatasaray 0-1 Real Madrid

Eden Hazard came into this game in comparatively better shape than before, but the lack of fitness was evident. The people didn’t see the real Eden Hazard on the eye test, but it was a huge step up from previous matches. This match acts as a transition between the two phases: This game showed us that while he still had his flaws, he was very efficient in the offence. Well, statistically, at least, because he did look clumsy when on the ball; his turns weren’t as swift as they can be and he was hesitant in going up against defenders. Statistically, though, he was solid.

He made one key pass (the assist to Toni Kroos’ goal), had seven shot-creating actions and a shocking open goal miss. He also completed four of his five dribbles.

The offence, for the most part, sailed through the left side. He linked up well with Toni Kroos, Marcelo and Karim Benzema. These four players had great chemistry all game and ran things in the attack. Benzema was mostly positioned to the left side near Hazard:

Karim Benzema’s heatmap against Galatasaray via Whoscored.com

Hazard, in that match, was decent. It wasn’t his best game, but we knew that there was a lot more to come from the Belgian very soon.

Real Madrid 5-0 Leganes

In the match against Leganes, Eden Hazard was a lot better than in previous contests. Even though his fitness levels were still inferior to his teammates’, he played very well. He was involved in two of Real Madrid’s five goals, first passing the ball to Benzema who laid it off to Kroos, and then winning a penalty for Sergio Ramos to score.

Throughout the match, Benzema and Hazard swapped positions frequently. He even played as a second striker for a few minutes. Other than that, he switched flanks with Rodrygo Goes and was involved all over the attacking third. He looked more confident on the ball than in previous matches, although hesitated in taking shots (he registered zero shots). Other than that, he was always looking to generate space for Marcelo whenever he provided him with overloads. For example, in the first goal, he forced Martin Braithwaite — who was marking Marcelo — to come closer to the Belgian, which resulted in Marcelo having more space to operate and make a more accurate cross:

Statistically, as I said, he was great. He completed seven of his nine dribbles, which was the highest in the game (also the second-highest for him in the season). He had three key passes and had seven shot-creating actions, which, again, was the most on the pitch. In general, he was pretty good. There’s nothing more to it. He was also named man of the match. With each passing game, he got closer and closer to attaining full fitness and form.

Real Madrid 0-0 Real Betis

The first half of the Real Betis game was Eden’s best half in a Madrid shirt till that point in time. He looked much more agile on the ball, and his presence in the attacking third was much more noticeable than in any other game. He dictated the play through the left attacking half-space and that was something that the Betis defence didn’t have an answer for in the first 45 minutes.

He generated five SCAs, the third-highest number on the pitch. He completed three out of his four dribbles and had more touches in the opponent’s penalty area (eight) than any other player on the field. He also made a smart run in behind Betis’ defensive line from the flank. He then skipped past a defender and scored but the goal was correctly ruled out for offside:

With Eden Hazard, it is a given that he utilizes the strengths of his teammates around him. You can see that in this game, where he combined with Mendy and Benzema throughout.

In the second half, his contribution was limited since the Betis defence started keeping track of his movements in a far better way. It was also because of his fitness levels, which showed, as he did look tired towards the end. But, all in all, it was a fantastic individual performance from the Belgian who would be surely punching the air for timing his run half a second too early:

VAR image for Eden Hazard’s disallowed goal vs Real Betis

Real Madrid 6-0 Galatasaray

I don’t know what changed in three days. Hazard was obviously great against Betis, but there were moments where you’d think, he still doesn’t look like the Hazard we saw at Chelsea, even though he had a great game. Well, that changed when he played Galatasaray for the second time in the season. The real Hazard was back. He finally looked fit. He was great all game, and his performance gave people instant nostalgia of his Chelsea days, for example, one of his effortless yet so efficient turns that everyone adores:

He was a menace all game, had a joint team-high three key passes, a joint team-high six SCAs, and in general gave in an excellent performance. His pass-and-move technique looked much more polished. Watching this match again made me feel like he was holding back in previous games until he felt like he was close to attaining full fitness. Like in previous games, he kept switching positions all game, many times operating as a second striker.

He didn’t register any goals or assists, but if you watched the game, you know how good he was. The best part is, Eden Hazard’s “best game in white” was different after every game he played.

Eibar 0-4 Real Madrid

The match against Eibar will be remembered as one of the most entertaining games of the season. This was mainly because of Eden Hazard, Karim Benzema and Federico Valverde. Although Hazard wasn’t involved at some points of the game, his dribbling was (and is) still beyond comparison. He was close to perfection whenever he did have the ball. He won the first penalty for Real Madrid which was converted by Sergio Ramos. A few minutes later, he passed the ball to Lucas Vazquez who was fouled in the penalty box, winning a penalty, which was converted by Karim Benzema. The first half of this game was some of the best football Real Madrid played last season. That was mainly because of the synergy between Hazard and Benzema. It was truly breathtaking at some points, with Ferland Mendy also combining well with the two attackers from time to time:

The following sequence would’ve been a goal-of-the-season contender if the cross was a wee bit more powerful, and was followed by a good finish from Karim. Incredible football:

Due to Eibar’s high pressing scheme, Eden had to drop deep to help escape the pressure from Eibar’s forwards. He had 29 touches in the middle part of the pitch, which was his third-highest number of the season. He started many of Real Madrid’s attacks because of it, even in the start where he looked wooed early on because of the press from Eibar’s players. Above all, what you get from a player like Hazard when fully fit, is offensive consistency. He will continue to create chances for the team even if he played with one leg.

He did have only one key pass, but he was fantastic all evening. He had the highest progressive distance in terms of carrying the ball. He operated on the flank more than in previous games, but his primary position was still the left half-space:

Eden Hazard’s heatmap vs Eibar via Whoscored.com

In general, just an outstanding performance from the Belgian.

Real Madrid 3-1 Real Sociedad

Hazard is one of the only offensive players I know that can have a man-of-the-match performance without registering a goal or an assist. He was fabulous vs Real Sociedad, a game in which Real Madrid struggled all night long and had to deal with Sociedad’s fantastic press. He had a season-high nine (!) completed dribbles, created five chances and had two key passes. He had the second-most touches on the pitch with 83. He was seen dropping deep although still on the flank whenever Sociedad pressed high. His heatmap suggested the same:

Eden Hazard’s heatmap against Real Sociedad via Whoscored.com

He had a season-high 33 touches in the middle third, and 15 in the defensive third (another season-high).

In the first 20 minutes, he didn’t receive the ball for significant stretches because ‘Los Blancos’ were having trouble getting the ball out of their half. There were moments of greatness still there though, one of which showed Hazard’s brilliant positional awareness of those near him:

Although, one thing that I have noticed from his string of good games is that his pressing numbers had regressed drastically from when he wasn’t playing at his best. (9.8 pressures per game vs 14.8 pressures per game).

Real Madrid 2-2 Paris St. Germain

The game against PSG has been Eden Hazard’s best match in a Madrid shirt. It could’ve been bettered upon in the next had it not been for Thomas Meunier to injure him in the 64th minute of the game.

Anyway, since Zinedine Zidane opted for a diamond with Isco having a free role, Hazard was seen in the middle for a significant period, while switching to the left often. Hazard was doing everything: He was starting attacks, he was there to give the final pass, he was there to make that extra run in the space on the flank. He was there to take on opponents one after the other. I don’t think it is any coincidence that Real Madrid’s best game of the season (performance-wise) was the same one as Hazard’s. Everything just clicked. Most of the offense went through the left, or the players playing on the left: Marcelo gave in one of his best performances in recent times, Toni Kroos was everywhere all game and had seven key passes (second-most in the season for him), a staggering season-high of 96.3% passing accuracy (105/109) 123 touches, most on the field and second highest in the season for the German. Same with Karim — who scored both of the team’s goals — all of whom operated on the left side more often than not:

Combined heatmap of Eden Hazard, Marcelo, Toni Kroos and Karim Benzema vs PSG via Whoscored.com

These three players combined for 43% of the team’s total touches.

The way the team played was beautiful. Eden Hazard’s chemistry with the players around him is elite, even more so considering he hasn’t been with the team for longer than six months:

Hazard had terrific moments throughout the game. He was the one who started the attack that led to the first Real Madrid goal, and switched the ball to the right side, with some brilliant dribbling:

Hazard was at his peak in this match. With each passing game, he seemed to had taken on more and more responsibility. It was the most enjoyable 80 minutes of the season, not even from the perspective of a journalist, but just a fan of football — until all hell broke loose and Madrid’s defense conceded two goals in three minutes. A grievous injury on Hazard also overshadowed the match. A shame, really, as it looked like the Belgian had finally found his groove.

3. The Aftermath, And What Comes Next

The followings statistics also include the two games that he played in February after which he re-suffered his injury.

Eden Hazard hasn’t been the same player ever since the tackle by Meunier. Starting with key passes, the Belgian averaged 1.5 per game in the eight games he played. He averaged 2.2 SCAs, and just 1.6 completed dribbles per game. The story concludes that he now needs to work on his fitness. This issue does sound concerning because even after the surgery, he hasn’t been able to replicate his excellent form. He was OK, but there was some discomfort which kept him out for the majority of the games after the continuation of the league. Even when he played, he didn’t look as good on the ball as he can be. It almost felt like he was scared of getting injured again if he went all out.

Ever since the season ended, he’s had time just to let his ankle heal and make sure he’s entirely fit and in top form as soon as possible. Belgium national team manager Roberto Martinez said that Hazard was working on his fitness and wasn’t in the starting lineup or the bench in all of Belgium’s Nations League games. Moreover, Zidane didn’t include him in Real Madrid’s squad for their first game of the new season. Expecting him to play at his best in the first game back (whenever that may be) might be a little too much, but we could see him finding his stride mid to late November — granted he remains fully fit.