Opinion: Fitness is no longer Eden Hazard's biggest problem at Real Madrid as Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior flourish
Eden Hazard has found fitness, but is having to make do with a place on Real Madrid's bench due to the form of Marco Asensio, Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior. The 30-year-old will have to raise his game to get back in Carlo Ancelotti's starting line-up, with Benzema and Vinicius particularly impressive so far this season.
All Eden Hazard needed was fitness. That was the widespread belief for the Belgian’s first two seasons at Real Madrid, when a series of persistent injuries prevented him from fulfilling his ‘Galactico’ destiny. Signed for €100m in the summer of 2019 to be the heir to Cristiano Ronaldo, Hazard barely made it on the pitch.
Now, though, the 30-year-old is fit again having had the benefit of a full pre-season. Hazard is leaner than he has been for a number of years and has managed to keep himself out of the physio’s room so far this season. Yet the Belgian still finds himself on the Real Madrid bench.
Carlo Ancelotti has revitalised Real Madrid’s attack since taking over from Zinedine Zidane in the summer, but it is Marco Asensio, Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior who have fired Los Blancos to the top of La Liga, not Hazard. Indeed, Hazard has played only a bit-part role for the Spanish giants this season.
The form of Benzema and Vinicius in particular has given Ancelotti no other choice. With eight goals and seven assists in just seven La Liga appearances, Benzema is currently in the form of his life, which is saying something given the key role he has played for Real Madrid over the last three seasons since the departure of Ronaldo.
Vinicius, previously criticised for his lack of final product, has added cutting edge to his game this season. Ancelotti has seemingly instructed the Brazilian to get the ball out of his feet quicker. He is taking fewer touches of the ball and this has added another dimension to his play, scoring five times in his first seven league outings.
Asensio, whose career had stagnated, has also raised his performance level, netting a hat trick in the emphatic 6-1 win over Real Mallorca last week, while Rodrygo has even found a way to contribute, scoring a crucial winner against Inter in Real Madrid’s Champions League opener at San Siro.
On top of this, Eduardo Camavinga has made an instant impact following his deadline day arrival at the Santiago Bernabeu. The French teenager has rejuvenated Real Madrid’s ageing midfield core, giving his new team a stronger platform in the opposition half by pushing them 10 yards up the pitch.
All these factors have combined to squeeze Hazard out of the picture even though the Belgian started the season well. The 30-year-old contributed an assist in Real Madrid’s season opener against Alaves and hasn’t played poorly when he has made it on the pitch, but Ancelotti simply has more productive alternatives right now.
Gareth Bale of Real Madrid celebrates scoring his side's first goal with Karim Benzema and Eden Hazard of Real Madrid during the La Liga Santader match between Levante UD and Real Madrid CF at Ciutat de Valencia Stadium on August 22, 2021 in Valencia
Image credit: Getty Images
Concerns over Hazard’s fitness, and more specifically his ability to play back-to-back games, remain. “He has improved his condition, but we have to be careful with him,” Ancelotti recently admitted. “He has had injuries in the past and giving him two games in a row can be difficult. He is still not at the level we want, but we are confident he will return to his best condition again.”
Denied the resources to make many summer signings, Ancelotti has been hired to get more out of Real Madrid’s current squad and in Hazard the Italian coach has taken on a project. At his best, the Belgian is one of the most potent wide attackers in the game. If Ancelotti can restore Hazard’s sparkle, Real Madrid will be a better team.
Right now, though, they are a better team with Hazard starting on the bench, where he can make an impact as a substitute. Fitness is no longer the former Chelsea player’s biggest problem. Instead, Hazard must prove he is a better option for Real Madrid than his team-mates.