“Eden Hazard training ‘like an aeroplane’ ahead of Real Madrid’s LaLiga return,” Alvaro Arbeloa mused in the days before Real Madrid took the pitch against Eibar. The Belgian’s recovery and ability to feature in the last stretch of the season is expected to be a key factor as Real Madrid attempt to make a push in both La Liga and the Champions League. Arbeloa proved his comments were no exaggeration as Hazard’s first match since the end of February showed how sharp and ready the winger is. Hazard was functionally important to the offensive dexterity Real Madrid displayed in the match (particularly in the first half).
He started the game on the left side but drifted to the middle often offering a central outlet against Eibar’s collapsing defense. This provided relief in possession (while supporting Marcelo’s positioning) for Los Blancos but not without consequence as Hazard was the recipient of a number of harsh fouls. This accurately signified the degree of attention he was attracting. The talisman’s “gravity” is one of his best qualities and an element that provides significant functional value to the tactical architecture of the team in terms of pacing and tempo. It gives additional time and space to his teammates which even if marginal in perception can have wide-ranging impacts.
Physically, Hazard appeared to be in great shape as he utilized his speed and quickness to make darting runs and evade challenges with dribbles. He recorded a game high five dribbles and the most touches for any forward (tied with Benzema on both accounts despite the latter playing over half an hour more). He also pressed, by his standards, fairly diligently closing down opposition players and even registering an interception.
The most positive sign from Hazard’s performance on Sunday was his chemistry with Benzema. The style of play favoured by the two players meant that fans had always expected them to seamlessly mesh on the field. And while they have demonstrated that they can play well together, it didn’t happen consistently as their interaction on the pitch would sometimes look forced, overplayed, or uncoordinated. None of those complaints could be levied against them on Saturday. From positional balance to interplay, Hazard and Benzema worked effectively as a duo to slice through the Eibar defense.
Eden Hazard has provided his first LaLiga assist since October 2019.— Squawka Football (@Squawka) June 14, 2020
Just the second of his Real Madrid league career. pic.twitter.com/D2zDAgv9yC
For the the first play between the two leading to Ramos’ goal, Hazard sprinted through the middle following an interception by Ramos. The Belgian was progressing through the central zone while Benzema received the ball on the left reflecting how easily the two interchange positions. Benzema’s trickery allowed him to skip past a player before he beautifully found Hazard in the box. Hazard, showing his natural selflessness, didn’t hesitate too long to find an open Ramos to slot in the second goal.
This was only Hazard’s second assist in the league and his first in almost nine months of play making it only one goal and three assists total to his name so far this season. But what’s clear is that Hazard is much more than crude numbers and has an intensifying and influential effect on the team.
And nothing could really show that better than when analyzing the anatomy of goals such as Marcelo’s. There is a certain surgical precision (albeit with an imposing composure) to Hazard’s actions on the pitch. From the way he coolly nodded the ball to Carvajal and surveyed his surroundings before picking out Benzema for a one-two. This was followed by an explosive burst past defenders into the box for a return pass from Benzema. The Belgian then launched a powerful shot towards net which led to the rebound that Marcelo collected and scored from. And that put the exclamation mark on the Belgian’s first game back since getting injured.