After the nerve-wracking rendition of keepy-uppies had been dispensed with, Eden Hazard declared the ambitions he had for his debut campaign in the famous white kit: “My dream is to have as much fun on the field and win as many trophies as possible with this club.”
Almost a year after the Belgian swapped Chelsea for Real Madrid in a move which could be worth up to £130m, that simple, innocent statement only serves to highlight the disappointing season Hazard has endured so far.
Real’s latest galáctico has struggled to make it onto the pitch, with just nine La Liga starts in a debut campaign plagued by injuries. On the hunt for trophies, Madrid sit behind Barcelona in the league table, were knocked out of the Copa del Rey and are on the brink of elimination from the Champions League.
Unfortunately, Hazard has watched most of his side’s struggles from the sidelines. Along with a niggling hamstring problem, the Belgian has also endured ankle and shin injuries.
While there is a risk in paying such a fee for a player feasibly past their peak – Hazard turned 29 in January – Real can be forgiven for not foreseeing these fitness woes. Over the course of seven seasons with Chelsea, Hazard missed only 20 games across all competitions with injury.
In less than one full campaign at Real Madrid, he has already sat out 24 matches in the treatment room.
These struggles with fitness started before the Belgium international faced the hacking feet of La Liga opponents as he arrived at the club after a little too much celebration.
What at first seemed like cruel and unfounded assessments of his physical condition, Hazard later admitted he was, in fact, five kilograms overweight upon arrival at pre-season training, saying: “It is true. I will not hide it. When I am on vacation, I am on vacation. I am one of those who puts it on quickly and loses fast, if I pay attention.”
After the holiday weight had been shed, and between the severe injury-layoffs, Hazard failed to deliver the same output the Chelsea faithful came to expect.
One goal and one assist – admittedly, in limited minutes – is not pleasant reading for those of a Real Madrid persuasion and Hazard’s assessment of his own campaign during the suspension of play has been refreshingly honest: “My first season at Real has been rotten.”
The Belgian certainly didn’t live out a debut campaign reminiscent of those he enacted as a child, pretending to be Zinedine Zidane – his current manager. However, he remains an elite dribbler and, despite playing just 748 minutes of La Liga football, only one player in the division has won more penalties for his side.
Hazard recognised this himself: “But everything is not to be thrown away. It was an adaptation season. I will be judged on the second season. It’s up to me to be in good shape next year.”
Due to the enforced hiatus, Hazard will be able to make his first season in Spain a little more memorable as he should be fit for action when La Liga returns in June.
Much like their departed talisman, Chelsea have endured some low points in a transitional campaign. However, with a living club legend at the helm, Frank Lampard’s side have finally embraced the young talent which would have previously been sent out on loan.
Hazard was bought by Real effectively to replace the chasm created by Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure in 2018, but the Belgian left his own sizeable hole back in west London after a career-best campaign of 16 goals and 15 assists in the Premier League alone.
To begin the season, that void was filled by Tammy Abraham. The 22-year-old striker scored ten goals in his first 12 league games and, by the November international break, Chelsea were level on points with second-placed Leicester City.
Unfortunately, Lampard’s golden touch seemed to desert him as the Blues lost five of their next seven league games, yet still remained in the Champions League spots. This swing in form was exaggerated as the side started the season by over-performing their expected goals, followed by a dip below the underlying numbers.
The man acquired to fill Hazard’s boots was American 21-year-old Christian Pulisic. Lampard used him sparingly at the beginning of the campaign but his fourth league start brought a hat-trick for the former Borussia Dortmund winger.
Following Hazard’s example this season a little too closely, Pulisic hobbled off injured on New Year’s Day, sidelining him until the suspension of play. But Pulisic has had an admirable debut season in English football and five goals coupled with two assists in just 12 Premier League starts is nothing to be sniffed at.
While he seems capable of replicating Hazard’s scoring threat, the creative side of the Belgian’s game may be beyond the American, but at 21, there is still plenty of time to improve.
Neither Hazard nor Chelsea have quite enjoyed the season they dreamt of 12 months ago, but each can find plenty of encouragement. And with a return to football on the horizon for both, they still have time to add a positive ending to their respective campaigns.