Real Madrid exit a very testing September by welcoming Club Brugge to Santiago Bernabeu in the Champions League on Tuesday night.
Their schedule included trips to Paris Saint-Germain, Sevilla and Atletico Madrid which left Zinedine Zidane’s reputation oscillating from one extreme to the next.
But after the disaster in Paris, Los Blancos have steadied themselves and are primed to get their first European points on the board when the Belgian Pro League leaders travel to the Spanish capital.
Time in the Galacticos realm is warped and it’s something Eden Hazard is coming to realise.
The Belgium winger is obviously not up to full speed yet as he works out his physical fitness following injury and that’s naturally led to concern.
Real have been far more assured from a defensive standpoint keeping clean sheets in their last three fixtures, a tip of the cap to Casemiro on that front, but they have also looked anaemic in attack. Their xG (expected goals) against Atletico Madrid was 0.3 – leading to a magnification of Hazard’s slow start.
However, it’s not just his fitness which is a worry.
The 28-year-old’s quality cannot be questioned, but Zidane’s use of him so far in comparison to his time at Chelsea can be. Zidane’s widemen are tasked with slinging in crosses and it’s meant much of their play has been funnelled down the right side for Gareth Bale, often neglecting Hazard with the Welshman seeing more touches of the ball.
While Hazard was nominally positioned on the left for Chelsea he had license to drift inside or drop deep to collect possession and then attack defenders.
But so far for Real he’s been stationed much closer to the touchline and it’s put him on the periphery. Hazard is a focal-point player and he demands full attention rather than seeing the load shared.
In other words, Madrid have to start feeding him the ball far quicker and more often if they are to see full benefits.
Brugge provide the ideal contest to really unleash the Belgian beast.
JAMES RODRIGUEZ CONUNDRUM
One of the surprise omissions from Saturday’s Madrid derby was James Rodriguez, with the shock ironic given Zidane wanted him sold in the summer.
Indeed, the Colombia international has been one of Real’s more impressive performers this season, emerging as a more complete midfielder having exchanged some of his silk for steel.
James’ energy and work rate has been highly commendable and he’s provided much of the penetration from midfield through his sharp vertical passing.
With Luka Modric out of action, James’ quick thoughts and feet have been absolutely vital.
Yet pragmatism saw him dropped for the more defensive-minded Federico Valverde at Wanda Metropolitano, and the problem now is that with the Uruguayan assured and Modric back in the mix, it’s hard to see how James continues to be entrusted with major minutes.
While he has added a new dimension to his game, James’ natural position is still as a pure No10 and that requires at least two Casemiros in behind to facilitate.
Madrid are crying out for an athletic and dynamic midfielder with Modric’s physical decline last season leading to gaps everywhere, as he struggled to cover ground and sweep up like in previous campaigns.
Valverde’s stability and Modric’s standing in the side mean they are both ahead of the Colombian who still looks a little uneasy when it comes to midfield pressing.
JOVIC NEEDS TIME, TOO
Hazard isn’t the only one of the new additions to endure a slow start to their Real Madrid career.
Of the possible 720 minutes of action on offer, Ferland Mendy has accrued the most of the new signings with 270 minutes in the bank, and like Hazard, injury has curtailed his opportunities.
That hasn’t been the case for Luka Jovic, though, who has been restricted to just 218 minutes and only two league starts despite a clean bill of health.
Real are struggling in front of goal and have a man who scored 27 times for Eintracht Frankfurt last season on the bench.
One of his starts arrived last week against Osasuna and what was obvious in that game is that he is lacking the one key ingredient all forwards need to cook up a goal – confidence.
His overall performance was positive and there was even a slick finish. Relief flooded his usually stoic mask but made way for disappointment when VAR later ruled the goal out for offside.
The 21-year-old needs more time in front of goal to build some momentum and being tasked with leading the line against Brugge represents an ideal opportunity to do just that.
Eden Hazard has insisted he is not yet a Galactico as he attempts to follow in the footsteps of Cristiano Ronaldo.
Hazard is in line to play his first Champions League game for Real at the Bernabeu Stadium against Group A rivals Club Brugge on Tuesday evening confident he can reach the heights he scaled during his seven-year stay at Chelsea once again.
Speaking at the LaLiga side’s pre-match press conference, he said: “I’m not yet a Galactico. I have to be the one to prove that I can become one.
“We know very well the last number seven at this club and I have to be the first to prove that I can be the best in the world, enjoy myself on the pitch, give everything in training and matches.
“I don’t doubt my abilities or my technique and the more I gain confidence, everything will be better.”
Hazard has made only four appearances for the club since his £89million summer arrival, one of them in a 3-0 defeat at Paris St Germain in the opening round of Champions League fixtures, with a thigh injury having delayed his start to the season.
However, coach Zinedine Zidane is confident he will rediscover his best form after initially struggling himself when he joined Juventus in 1996.
Zidane said: “He knows we want more from him, but we have to stay calm. I’m not worried at all. He will succeed here and will be very good.
“You have to be patient with players who have just arrived. The good thing is he will not change. He needs more, but we will see it soon. If we can see it tomorrow, great.
“The same thing happened to me, but I stayed calm. I knew that in time it would work.”
Real did not make it to the semi-finals for the first time since 2009-10 campaign last season, and have lost three of their last four games in the competition.
They currently top the LaLiga table after seven games, but asked which he would prefer to win, Hazard replied: “Both. When we start a competition, we want to win it: Champions League, league, cup… When you play for Real Madrid, all we want and have in our mind is to win.”
Brugge head into the game having taken a point from their opener at home to Galatasaray and unbeaten in 14 games in all competitions so far this season.
Striker Mbaye Diagne, who scored twice as a substitute in Saturday’s 5-0 league win at Mechelen, told the club’s official website: “That will be an awesome game. Everyone wants to prove himself against Real Madrid. It is a dream to score at the Bernabeu.
“We will play our match there and hope to achieve a good result. They lost at Paris Saint Germain, so everything is possible.”
Diego Simeone and Zinedine Zidane shared their thoughts after Atletico and Real drew 0-0 in the Madrid derby in La Liga on Saturday.
The Wanda Metropolitano staged a tight game of few clear-cut chances, although Atletico keeper Jan Oblak made two fine saves and Gareth Bale missed a great opening for Real.
The result keeps Zidane’s men one point ahead of their city rivals – and promoted Granada – at the top of the table but Barcelona are now within striking distance after their 2-0 win at Getafe, their first away victory in any competition since April.