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This is where Galacticos are made: Real Madrid need Hazard masterclass to overcome Man City

11:00 AM GMT+4 06/08/2020
Eden Hazard Real Madrid 2019-20
They may have claimed their 34th Liga title, but that was down to defensive strength - now the Blancos are going to need more from their star name

Eden Hazard does not need to be told; he freely admits this has been the lowest ebb of his career, even as he sits on the highest pedestal.

Real Madrid lifted their 34th Spanish title in July, but Hazard could only watch on from the sidelines for much of the season as his dream move from Chelsea proved more of a nightmare.

“This year, we collectively won this league title, but I have surely had the worst season of my career individually,” he lamented.

The Belgian winger arrived overweight after a summer of celebration and then suffered a hamstring injury on the eve of La Liga starting. It foreshadowed a troubled campaign where just as he seemed to be finding form, he was stricken again with a hairline fracture in his foot.

Hazard has not played a full 90 minutes since November last year, and only the coronavirus pandemic gave him the chance to feature in the endgame of the season for Real Madrid.

Just as well, because Zinedine Zidane’s side need Hazard to produce something special if they are to overturn their last 16 first-leg defeat by Manchester City in the Champions League, and go on to record a fourth triumph in five years in the competition.

Pep Guardiola’s men came from behind to earn a 2-1 win at Santiago Bernabeu back in February as Madrid captain Sergio Ramos was sent off, leaving the Premier League runners-up firm favourites for the second leg.

But Hazard is the type of player capable of tilting the balance in Madrid’s favour. That is why they signed him, to provide something extra, something special, something the other squad players cannot manage.

Zidane has plenty of wingers, and he cycled through them all in the fast and furious finish to the season as Madrid ground out 10 wins from 10 games to snatch the title from rivals Barcelona.

The coach was not shy of chopping and changing, with Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo, Marco Asensio, Lucas Vazquez and even outcast Gareth Bale being given the chance to flank striker Karim Benzema after football resumed in Spain.

Asensio was the best of the bunch and made a good impact after returning from a long-term injury, but none were capable of producing consistently and decisively.

In Benzema, Madrid have one brilliant player capable of undoing Manchester City, but the French forward needs a ‘socio’, as they say in Spain - partner - who can be his foil.

Hazard was supposed to be that man when he moved from Stamford Bridge for €100 million (£91m/$120m), and the duo have shown flashes of what they can achieve together. When they link up, sparks fly and Madrid’s attack goes from one-dimensional to electric.

Benzema’s sublime backheel assist for Casemiro against Espanyol is the kind of invention needed on a more regular basis if Madrid are to extend their European dominance. With 21 goals the striker was the division’s second top scorer behind Lionel Messi, and he carried Madrid’s attack this season.

That centre-back Ramos was the club’s next most prolific player with 11 league goals exposes Madrid’s lack of firepower in two ways. One, that none of the wingers was capable of chipping in with more than a handful of strikes, and two, that a lot of Madrid’s goals, particularly in the run-in, have come from the penalty spot.

Ramos dispatched them clinically, but it is not a reliable source of goals going into the Champions League. With the Andalusian missing for the second leg anyway, there is even more need for Madrid’s attack to unpick City’s defence with Hazard’s magic.

Vinicius, Rodrygo and Co. were just good enough to help Zidane grind his way to the title in the summer marathon ending, but Man City are a very different proposition to any side they faced after the restart, or indeed any team in Spain, including Barcelona.

Liverpool had their name on the Premier League trophy for months and Guardiola was able to rotate his squad to keep the likes of Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez fresh for the challenges ahead - and this is the trophy that they really, desperately want.

But Guardiola cannot stop Hazard if the Belgian strikes the rich vein of form he is capable of; nobody can.

That is why Zidane wanted him to come for a king’s ransom, and in training he has been lining up with Hazard and Asensio as the players in support of Benzema.

Doubts persist over his ankle - he finished the season wrapped in cotton wool and reports from the Spanish capital are worrying - but the thinking for now is that Hazard will start if he can.

He will make Madrid’s attack far less predictable and of a higher calibre. Los Blancos have finally toughened up at the back, with Thibaut Courtois imperious, Raphael Varane classy and Ferland Mendy offering granite solidity in place of Marcelo’s laissez-faire attitude to defending, so it is in attack they need to improve.

That has been the case for most of the season - Madrid looking just one Hazard short of being a superb side. He has managed only one goal in a Madrid shirt, a delightful lob against Granada in October which was a mere sneak peek of what he can offer, while adding a more notable seven assists in 21 appearances.

Madrid need him to keep increasing that tally, and Hazard says he gets as much satisfaction from teeing up a team-mate as he does from striking himself.

“The feeling is the same when you see the ball in the net,” he told UEFA ahead of the Champions League restart. “In my mind, I'm not just thinking about scoring goals, scoring goals, scoring goals. Some players now just think about scoring goals. And me? I'm more the kind of player who can create something. That's why I like to say that I'm more of an assisting guy than a scoring machine.”

In the next fortnight, Hazard has the chance to bury memories of his tough debut season in Spain, because if he shines against Man City to fire Madrid through, everybody will look forward to his future instead of dwelling on the past.

“I’m not a Galactico yet,” said Hazard in September. “I have to show that I can be one.” Now is the time, Eden. This is where Galacticos are made.