After three successive Champions League triumphs, complacency set in at Real Madrid last season. But they have already moved to guard against another inexcusable trophyless campaign by signing Eden Hazard from Chelsea, and the Belgian’s long-awaited move to Madrid will kick-start a much-needed shakeup among Zinedine Zidane’s squad.
Real have forked out £89m to get their man – potentially rising as high as £130m if conditional add-ons are triggered – making Hazard the first genuine Galactico arrival at the Bernabeu in five years, since James Rodriguez’s 2014 signing from Monaco.
With Cristiano Ronaldo gone, and Luka Modric and Sergio Ramos now in their mid-30s, the 13-time champions of Europe are rebuilding, refreshing their roster with youthful newcomers such as Eder Militao, the Brazilian centre-back signed from Porto, and sought-after 21-year-old striker Luka Jovic.
But Hazard, who will turn 29 midway through the 2019/20 season, is the centrepiece of this Real rejuvenation project, the ready-made star around whom the assembled cast of gifted youngsters will oscillate.
The addition of Hazard presents Zidane with some intriguing tactical options, and the Frenchman will have his work cut out to find a formula that both allows the Belgian to thrive and accommodate the likes of Jovic, Karim Benzema and the impressive Vinicius Junior in attack.
Through much of Zidane’s two spells in charge at the Bernabeu and even in the short period before his return last season, 4-3-3 has been the favoured formation for Los Blancos. If this is to remain the case, the obvious role for Hazard to slot into is his favoured position on the left of the front three, from where he has the freedom to collect the ball in space and drift inside on to his stronger right foot.
This is the position Hazard shone in with Chelsea, vital to two title wins and two Europa League triumphs.
But this is also the role in which Vinicius was such a revelation last season. The 18-year-old broke into the first team midway through the campaign and, although a raw talent whose finishing needs work, ripped through opposition defences with his direct and inventive dribbling, and impressed with his workrate and willingness to track back.
In a side that lacked a attacking focal point in light of Ronaldo’s departure, Vinicius emerged as the new star.
Sticking with 4-3-3 would likely mean Vinicius shifts over to the right to accommodate Hazard, denying the teenager the option of dribbling inside on to his favoured right foot, but potentially opening up a new avenue of attack by allowing him to take on his opposing full-back around the outside and provide crosses. Given Vinicius’ wayward shooting, this might even see him become more effective.
What 4-3-3 does not allow, though, is for both Benzema and Jovic to start. If Zidane intends to pair his new £60m Serbian signing with his veteran compatriot, a return to the 4-3-1-2 set-up could be the answer.
This is the shape Zidane turned to in the second half of the 2016/17 season, and it led to Real claiming a 12th European Cup and producing their best football under the French boss.
Back then, the switch to 4-3-1-2 was an effort to deploy Ronaldo centrally while incorporating Isco in his best role, as a No.10. Next season, this could see Benzema – one of the best facilitating centre-forwards in the world – partner Jovic, with Hazard in the hole.
Bad News For Bale
Whichever formation Zidane opts for, Hazard’s arrival all but confirms the fact that there is no longer a place for Gareth Bale at the Bernabeu. The Welshman has won four Champions Leagues since his then-world-record £85m switch from Tottenham, but persistent injuries have seen him struggle to establish a regular starting berth in the last two seasons.
Bale is 7/5 to join long-time admirers Manchester United this summer, while a surprise return to Spurs is 11/4.
Isco, too, is likely to find himself surplus to requirements this summer, despite being a favourite of Zidane’s during his first stint in charge. The classy Spanish playmaker will not be short of suitors should he become available, and a reunion with Ronaldo at Juventus, priced at 3/1, makes a lot of sense.
In Hazard, Real have belatedly replaced the star power they lost when Ronaldo moved to Italy, a Galactico worthy of the label. Winning the Champions League is the aim at the start of every season for Real Madrid and,, Hazard can make them continental kings once again.
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