Is Eden Hazard Ronaldo's heir apparent or the next Ousmane Dembele?
Background photo: Acruz319, CC BY-SA 4.0
Zinedine Zidane's return couldn't save Real Madrid from embarrassment last season. The Spanish giants finished third in La Liga rankings, a record 19 points behind arch-rivals Barcelona. Their defeat to Real Betis on Matchday 38 was their 12th on the campaign. That was their second-worst outing since 1973/74 when they recorded 13 defeats.
This season, the Frenchman appears to be steering the team in the right direction. Following an extremely busy summer transfer window with €337.5 million [Transfermarkt] spent on nine players, Los Blancos entered the term in better shape. They sit second in the league table with 53 points from 25 games and carry La Liga's best defensive record, conceding just 17 goals while losing only two matches. However, the feeling lingers that they could have done more if marquee signing Eden Hazard remained fit.
The Belgian completed his long-anticipated move to the Santiago Bernabeu last summer. Seen as the man to pick up the baton following Cristiano Ronaldo's departure, the playmaker cannot get off the ground since he switched to the Spanish capital. His debut was delayed after he picked up a hamstring injury in August, not officially appearing in the white jersey until 14 September. He didn't stick around. A bruised ankle kept him out of action for eight days as November turned into December. His second return was curtailed by a hairline crack in his foot that sidelined him for 64 days. Hazard returned from that injury on 7 February. Was that the end of it? Hardly. This past weekend he turned an ankle in the defeat to Levante, subsequently ruling the Chelsea legend out of the Champions League tilt with Manchester City tonight and the Bernabeu Clasico on Sunday.
Limited to 15 appearances across all competitions courtesy four injuries in seven months, the left-sided trickster contributes a paltry one goal and five assists to the Merengues' cause. Understandably, Madridistas worry their club signed its own version of Barcelona flop Ousmane Dembele, who's been in and out of the Camp Nou infirmary for three years now.
Hailed as the next big thing in football when Barca paid Borussia Dortmund £105 million to snap him up as Neymar's replacement in 2017, the young Frenchman enjoyed a decent start to Catalunyan life, bagging a couple of assists in the 201/18 campaign's early doors. Then a terrible muscle injury cost him 106 days. Ever since, the winger battles one injury setback after the other, failing to realise his potential with the Blaugrana.
Dembele won't be back this term after tearing his muscle again on 4 February. His loss was still fresh in the memory when Hazard went down again. While his debut campaign is hindered by fitness problems, the coming summer presents an opportunity to recover, rebuild and return stronger next season. The Belgian is less than a year into his Real Madrid career. It's too early to claim he's another Dembele. On the other hand, it's fair to wonder whether we'll ever see the pair contest a Clasico.