Pressure is mounting on the injury-plagued playmaker with his performances coming in for close scrutiny as the Spanish champions struggle for form
Loic Remy was bemused by Eden Hazard during their first training session together at Chelsea.
“He didn’t defend well in the session,” the French forward told Xpooze “He gave away the ball and, at the end of training, I asked: ‘You train like this?’
“He was like: ‘Don’t worry, I am the boss.’ But not in an arrogant way, as he can be casual when he speaks.
Then, along comes the first game for Chelsea and I am on the bench against Swansea City (September 2014). Diego Costa scored a hat-trick, so Jose Mourinho brings me on and I scored a debut goal, but only after Eden danced around the box with the ball before giving it to Oscar to set it up.
“I was so happy in the dressing room afterwards. Then, Eden came up to me and said: ‘Now you see who is the boss!'”
How Real Madrid must wish Hazard still possessed such self belief.
AS observed that, at one point during the game, “he received a ball from Casemiro inside the area, but he clearly didn’t know what to do.
“It was a constant feature of his game: he wanted to make something happen but could not – or perhaps did not know how to. Instead, he choked when facing defenders.”
“The terrible thing is that he is starting to replicate these performances on a regular basis. And the idea that he does not deserve to be a starter is beginning to circulate among the Madrid fans.”
Indeed, the following day, AS conducted a survey that found that 25 per cent of supporters wanted Hazard benched, while 44% of those polled called for him to be sold at the end of the season.
It is not just the fans who are losing faith in the former Chelsea star either.
“Hazard shouldn’t be starting,” Madrid legend Predrag Mijatovic told El Larguero.“But the one who decides and sees him in training is (coach) Zinedine Zidane.
“Real Madrid play well without him, though, and that’s the worrying thing.”
Hazard’s numbers are certainly a cause for concern.
Since joining Madrid in the summer of 2019 for €100 million (£88m/$112m), he has contributed just three goals and four assists in all competitions.
There is, of course, one major mitigating factor: Hazard has been beset by injury issues.
He has been sidelined eight times in just 16 months, missing more games for Madrid than he did during seven years at Chelsea.
His fitness problems are a legitimate excuse for his struggles – but that is a cause for concern in itself.
Hazard turned 30 earlier this month. There may be exceptions to the rule such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic but, generally, players only become more injury prone as they grow older. Hazard has been recently compared to Kaka, a world-class talent hobbled by injuries during his time at the Bernabeu.
He still has time to turn things around, though.
Firstly, despite Madrid’s long-held interest in Kylian Mbappe, the club simply does not have the funds to sign the Paris Saint-Germain attacker.
Given the current economic crisis caused by Covid-19, it is far more likely that president Florentino Perez will wait until next year before hopefully trying to sign the France international on a free transfer when his contract expires in 2022.
Madrid would have to sell Hazard to raise funds for a summer move but, as it stands, there is simply no chance of them recouping even half of the fee they paid Chelsea for the former Lille star two years ago.
Secondly, Hazard still retains the support of Zidane.
It was the Frenchman who first suggested to Perez that he sign Hazard back in 2009 and, despite the mounting frustration among Madrid’s fan base, the coach remains convinced that the No.7 will come good.
“I don’t think people are tired of him,” Zidane told reporters after the 2-1 loss to Athletic. “You have to be patient with him. He wants to get out of this bad period.
“It wasn’t just Eden who struggled tonight (Thursday) either. We started the game badly, but he did well in the second half.”
In truth, Hazard was dreadful from the first minute until he was replaced midway through the second half by Vinicius Junior.
Indeed, he is lucky that the young Brazilian has lost his way this season; otherwise, there really would be no reason to keep Hazard in the team.
Still, he is undeniably facing being dropped.
He struggled both as a central playmaker and as an orthodox winger against Athletic, and Marco Asensio, who has had his own injury issues in recent seasons, is now a better option on the left-hand side of the Madrid attack, as the Spaniard underlined against Athletic.
Zidane seems set to persist with Hazard for now, which is unsurprising. He knows, more than most, what a game changer a fully fit and firing Hazard could be for a side that is struggling to score goals this season.
There remains some sympathy among the fans and within the media for his rotten run of luck, with Zidane revealing that this has been a difficult period for the player “emotionally”.
But both time and patience are running out, and at a club renowned for its ruthlessness.
Hazard remains a special talent but his confidence has understandably been rocked by his succession of setbacks.
He is most definitely not the boss at Madrid, and right now, he is just lucky that Zidane is.