Eden Hazard’s Real Madrid’s career to date hasn’t exactly panned out how he surely imagined. Signed for €100m as Los Blancos’ first true ‘Galactico’ in years, the Belgian was billed as the natural heir to Cristiano Ronaldo at the Santiago Bernabeu. He was even given the club’s famous number seven shirt to prove it.
However, the number seven hasn’t been seen on Hazard’s back very often over the last two seasons. Injuries and fitness concerns have restricted the 30-year-old from making any meaningful impact in the Spanish capital. In seven years at Chelsea, Hazard missed just 18 games through injury. At Real Madrid, though, he has been sidelined for no fewer than 45 competitive fixtures.
Chelsea certainly seem to have got the better end of the club-record deal that sent their best player to Spain. This, however, could change if Hazard propels Real Madrid past his former side and into this season’s Champions League final with Chelsea welcoming the 13-times European champions to Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night.
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Such a scenario would have been unimaginable only a few weeks ago, but Hazard is now back on a football pitch. What’s more, he looks somewhat like his old self, shining in the first half of Real Madrid’s win over Osasuna on Saturday - the Belgian’s first Liga start since January. He is in line to start on his return to Stamford Bridge.
“You could tell that he’s in good shape,” Thibaut Courtois insisted following a 13-minute cameo by Hazard in a 0-0 draw against Real Betis last month. “He has trained with us for two or three weeks and he looked very good. He will be very important for us from now until the end of the season.”
Real Madrid v C.A. Osasuna, Eden Hazard
Image credit: Getty Images
Of course, Real Madrid have been here before with Hazard. Every time their record signing appears close to full fitness, he has suffered a setback. The 30-year-old has sustained thigh, groin, calf, ankle and leg injuries since making the switch to the Spanish capital just two years ago. He even caught Covid-19. Fortune has not been on Hazard’s side.
This time, Zinedine Zidane has been cautious not to rush Hazard back. Even as Real Madrid have faced season-defining tests in the Champions League and La Liga title race, the Belgian was only afforded short substitute appearances off the bench for weeks. Now, though, Hazard looks ready to influence games for at least an hour. Wednesday’s Chelsea clash could be a catalyst for better times.
Hazard isn’t the only former Chelsea player who could send his former side tumbling out of the Champions League on his return to Stamford Bridge. Real Madrid will likely need Courtois to be in top form to make their fifth final in eight years. It’s just as well then that the 6ft 7in shot stopper has been the best goalkeeper in Europe this season.
Timo Werner scheitert im Champions-League-Halbfinal-Hinspiel aus kurzer Distanz an Real-Torwart Thibaut Courtois
Image credit: Imago
The trajectory of Courtois’ Real Madrid career should offer Hazard some encouragement. He too struggled to settle in his new surroundings, but has grown in stature with every season he has played in all-white. Courtois wasn’t Real Madrid’s first choice Galactico goalkeeper, but he has flourished into their best number one since Iker Casillas.
Real Madrid won’t play as poorly as they did in last week’s first leg against Chelsea. Thomas Tuchel’s side surprised the Spanish champions with their intensity and high press from the start. It was only through the individual brilliance of Karim Benzema that Los Blancos escaped with a 1-1 scoreline.
Sergio Ramos and Fede Valverde could back for Real Madrid while recent rotation by Zidane means his team should be fresher than they were a week ago. But it’s the recovery of Hazard that could most significantly boost their chances of victory. It might take a Chelsea return for the Belgian to finally prove himself as a Real Madrid player.
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