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11-Jun-2020, 05:53 pm

Hazard's fitness, ageing superstars and the burning questions Real Madrid must answer as La Liga restarts


Benzema Modric Zidane Real Madrid GFX

When Real Madrid kick off against Eibar on Sunday, it will mark the end of a 98-day wait for Blancos fans to see their team in action following the Covid-19 pandemic.

La Liga’s mid-season hiatus has given the Santiago Bernabeu outfit chance to reflect on what has been an improved campaign from Zinedine Zidane’s side, even if they remain in danger of finishing the season without any of the three main trophies on offer to them.

Out of the Copa del Rey and facing an uphill battle to stay in the Champions League (presuming the competition resumes), their defeat to Real Betis last time out means they sit two points adrift of leaders Barcelona with 11 matches to play.

Can they close the gap and win their first league title since 2017? It's just one of a number of burning questions facing Madrid ahead of the resumption of play in Spain...

If Madrid were to overhaul Barcelona in the coming weeks, it would go some way towards dispelling the claims that Zidane is nothing more than a lucky manager, whose only role in the dressing room is as a massager of egos.

Despite being the only coach in history to win the Champions League on three successive occasions, questions still remain over Zidane’s tactical acumen. Madrid’s slump since Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure has only added fuel to the fire, with Zidane’s second stint in charge at Santiago Bernabeu having underwhelmed thus far.

And while the current Barcelona team are far from a vintage outfit themselves, if Zidane can inspire his own flawed side to the title, then Madrid fans will believe that they have a coach taking a young set of players in the right direction.

Zinedine Zidane Real Madrid 2019-20

Of course, uncertainty surrounds how Madrid's squad will react to playing behind closed doors – and at the Alfredo di Stefano Stadium, given the Bernabeu is unavailable due to construction work. However, It's not as if the players will be unfamiliar with their temporary home, given they train every day in Valdebebas.

What's more, despite facing two trips to the Basque country to take on Real Sociedad and Athletic Club, as well as home matches against top-four contenders Valencia and Getafe, Madrid have a relatively straightforward run-in, with six of the current bottom seven teams remaining on their fixture list.

Therefore, winning La Liga this season will not eliminate all the questions surrounding Zidane. They will likely persist at least until he gets the opportunity to better Pep Guardiola by masterminding a come-from-behind victory over Manchester City in the Champions League.

However, failure to win a trophy will only further the narrative that Zidane is not operating on the same tactical level as the likes of Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Diego Simeone.

Quite how long Madrid fans would want to persist with such a coach at helm is certainly up for debate.

Few players enjoyed a more productive 2019 than Karim Benzema. The Frenchman's 35 goals in all competitions across the calendar year saw him restore his reputation as one of the game's leading No.9s after years of questions over his status in a team that included Ronaldo.

Since the turn of the year, however, Benzema’s goalscoring touch has deserted him. Though he has struck 18 times in all competitions this season, he has scored just three times since the turn of the year, with the weight of carrying the club’s fortunes almost solely on his own shoulders starting to catch up with the French forward.

Over the past 12 months, it has become clear that if Benzema does not score, Madrid do not have the required firepower to trouble top teams. They have netted just 16 goals in nine league matches in 2020. Their second top-scorer this season is Sergio Ramos, who has netted seven goals in all competitions.

So, how does Zidane get Benzema back to his very best form while ensuring others lighten his load?

The answer to both questions will likely have to be Eden Hazard.

Eden Hazard Real Madrid 2019-20

Disastrous might be too strong a word for Hazard’s debut campaign in Madrid, but it is not far off the mark.

Signed for €100 million (£88m/$112m) from Chelsea last summer, the Belgium international has started just nine league matches for the Blancos after suffering two separate foot injuries, the second of which was expected to rule him out for the rest of the campaign.

The pandemic, however, has offered him a second opportunity to make an impact, and the former Chelsea star’s talents might yet prove the difference for Madrid in their battle with Barcelona for the title.

Hazard’s ability to provide goals himself will likely be as important as his ability to lay on opportunities for others, though it will be interesting to see where on the pitch he is deployed by Zidane.

Obviously most comfortable on the left side, his position has largely been filled by Vinicius Junior since the turn of the year, with the young Brazilian beginning to produce high-level performances at a far more consistent level.

That has led some to ask whether Hazard might be played in a more central role behind Benzema, but either way he has an unexpected chance to play a decisive role. If he is able to do that, then a previously forgettable campaign could have a special final chapter for both him and Madrid’s No.9.

There is no doubt that Madrid are in a period of transition. The core of the team that won three successive Champions League titles continues to form the backbone of their side, but results over the past two seasons suggest they are now past their best.

These final few weeks, then, will likely help shape the futures of a number of legends as Zidane is offered the opportunity to gauge whether they are deserving of places in his line-up heading into next season and beyond.

The star most at risk of the chop is Luka Modric. The 2018 Ballon d’Or winner has started just 14 league matches this season, and with Fede Valverde having emerged as one of La Liga’s best young midfield talents, Modric has found himself on the bench far more than he would have expected.

The 34-year-old has just 12 months remaining on his contract at Madrid and with Zidane reportedly still keen on adding to his midfield ranks, we might be about to witness the final few weeks of Modric's Real career.

Others facing uncertain futures include full-backs Marcelo and Dani Carvajal, with both likely to be replaced by younger alternatives next season.

Ferland Mendy has already usurped Marcelo as Zidane’s preferred left-back, with the Brazil star having made just 11 league starts this term.

At 32, he still has gas in the tank, but with talented teenagers Miguel Gutierrez and David De la Vibora making their way through the ranks, it seems his time as the world’s leading player in his position is over.

On the opposite flank, Carvajal has not yet been replaced, but unless he can produce something spectacular in the next few weeks, then he surely will be next season.

It seems likely Achraf Hakimi will be welcomed back into the fold after his impressive two-year loan at Borussia Dortmund while Nacho remains an able deputy, with his versatility a bonus too.


Source : goal.com

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