If you merely looked at the stats, you might be concerned about Eden Hazard’s impact so far at Real Madrid.
One goal scored and two assists in 12 club appearances this season, with an average of only 1.8 shots and 1.9 chances created per game, do not suggest that the Belgian is setting the world alight at the Bernabeu.
And this just goes to show why it’s never wise to rely solely on basic statistics to judge the effectiveness of a player, because the truth is that the Belgian winger has regularly veered within touching distance of sheer brilliance over the last few weeks.
His performance against Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday night, in particular, was full of magic. Flicks, tricks, first-time back-heeled lay-offs, bursts of acceleration and dangerous dribbles towards goal…they were all on display, thrilling the hard-to-please home crowd and making it clear that Hazard now feels that he truly belongs with his new club.
Until, that is, his night was ended early by a crude challenge from his dazed and confused international team-mate Thomas Meunier, whose exhausted foul midway through the second half provided his night of grief with some blessed relief by badly twisting his tormentor’s ankle.
Immediately, even as their team were still attempting to seal three points against PSG, the thoughts of Madrid fans turned to a date three weeks in the distance: Wednesday, December 18. El Clasico. Barcelona at the Camp Nou.
Just as Hazard was really starting to find his feet, has Lady Luck cruelly struck him out of action, forcing him to miss his team’s biggest game in the opening half of the season?
Although no timeline was put on his recovery, the description of Hazard’s injury in the club’s official medical report – “an external bruise” – has sparked conclusions that he will be only out of action for ten days. Meaning he will miss this weekend’s trip to Alaves and a home meeting with Espanyol the following Saturday, but recover in plenty of time for El Clasico.
One man who will be mightily relieved by that piece of news is Karim Benzema, who has found a perfect partner-in-crime in his fellow French-speaker. Benzema’s silky smooth ability to drop into midfield and link play with his team-mates has allowed him to develop a flourishing partnership with Hazard, and their growing understanding was thrillingly evident against PSG on Tuesday night, enhanced by the endless forward runs made by Marcelo and the support play from midfield offered by Toni Kroos and Isco.
Hazard’s close control, blistering speed on the run and determination to attack the penalty area has a habit of attracting defenders, allowing intelligent strikers like Benzema to occupy the space they have vacated and sneak into goalscoring positions.
Considering the way they have been defending recently, it’s hard to see how Barca’s creaking back line could cope with HazBen (no, it will never catch on) in the Clasico. So the initial suggestions that the Belgian star will be fit to face the reigning champions will have Benzema breathing a big sigh of relief.
So, forget the fact that Hazard has still only scored once and assisted twice for his new club as we head into December. Sometimes stats don’t tell the full story, and on this occasion it’s better to rely on a Spanish word often used in the analysis of football teams: “sensaciones”. It directly translates as ‘sensations’ but more accurately means feelings. A way of gauging the emotional level of a team. “We have good sensations” means “we are playing well and feeling good about ourselves”.
Over the course of the last month, the sensations surrounding Real Madrid have been increasingly positive. Like the Beach Boys, they’re pickin’ up good vibrations. There’s no way of measuring those with stats – ‘expected heartrate’, perhaps? – but they are essential to the well-being of a team.
And Hazard, with his increasing confidence and self-expression, is certainly giving us excitations. Getting him back for El Clasico is essential.
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