A second trophy of the season was not meant to be on Sunday night for Real Madrid as they came out second best to a ruthless Barcelona performance. The scoreline speaks highly of the Catalan’s dominance, but in all reality, still understates it.
Karim Benzema & co. looked lost for ideas on the field, and so did manager Carlo Ancelotti on the sidelines. The Frenchman did finally strike in the 93rd minute, but it was too late for any hope of a comeback.
Gavi, Robert Lewandowski and Pedri got into the scoresheet for Barcelona as they hoisted the Spanish Super Cup. For Real Madrid, however, the attention now turns to the Copa del Rey where they face a very tricky fixture.
Madrid Universal brings you three talking points from the Merengues’ 3-1 drubbing on Sunday.
1. A game with no drive
Real Madrid never came to the party against Barcelona on Sunday. Purely in terms of drive and desire to win, the Catalans thoroughly deserved the result, something which Ancelotti acknowledged.
From start to finish, there was never a spell in the game when Real Madrid looked to be pressurising their opponents. The men in white were far too slack in their approach and the eventual goal from Benzema came too late.
Bluntly said, Los Blancos lost the game before they stepped onto the field with their subpar mentality. Yet, one finds it difficult to believe that Real Madrid, who are usually champions of the mental game, went down so tamely.
As Barcelona put in goal after goal, Ancelotti’s side showed no convincing response to threaten their opponents.
The forwards were caged by the Blaugrana defence to the extent that they could not string three passes together without being intercepted. In midfield, the story was no better as Luka Modric and Toni Kroos were completely overrun by Pedri and Frenkie de Jong.
There is a serious situation brewing in the dressing room that needs to be addressed at the earliest, for a healthy Real Madrid team would never go three goals down in such a toothless manner.
2. Defensive disaster
If there was one department that let down Ancelotti against Barcelona, it was the defensive line. All four defenders suffered disastrous outings and put up blank faces when faced with the Catalan attack.
Dani Carvajal was the slowest player on the field, measured at 29.1 km/h, but was up against the fastest player in Alejandro Balde. Unsurprisingly, the matchup did not fare well for the veteran as he was continually outrun by the Spanish phenom.
Eduardo Camavinga gifted Barcelona the ball for the first goal. However, the defending that followed was very poor as Antonio Rudiger was caught completely out of place while Militao was wrong-footed after Lewandowski’s pass. To see the far post undefended at such a high level is criminal.
For the Blaugrana’s second, the Brazilian centre-back committed himself so high up the field that he could not recover after Frenkie de Jong’s incisive pass. Defending Gavi man-for-man, Rudiger failed to anticipate the youngster’s cross.
The German international did not learn from his mistakes as he allowed a ditto cross by Gavi in the second half for Pedri’s goal. It seemed as if the Merengues‘ backline had snoozed and forgotten to wake up.
The fact that makes the result hard to digest is that all three of Barcelona’s goals were gifts from Real Madrid. Such an occurrence is very unlike the European Champions.
3. An unwanted run of poor form
Real Madrid have now lost four out of their last ten games across all competitions. Of their five games since the restart of club football, the Merengues lost two games and needed penalties to get the win over Valencia.
The remaining two matches included a nervy win over fourth-division side Cacereno and a late three points against Valladolid.
Clearly, none of their displays since the restart have been at the level one would associate with Real Madrid. The 3-1 hammering to Barcelona comes as the biggest blow of them all.
The hectic schedule ahead leaves little room for poor form. Two more weeks of football at this level could virtually eliminate the Merengues from all competitions in which they are involved. Thus, there is an urgent need for the manager and veterans to bring about a change.
Real Madrid next face Villarreal at Estadio de La Ceramica, less than two weeks after losing to the same team at the same venue. Can the men in white wake up and smell the coffee? Or will another defeat midweek be the end of their confident mentality? Only time will tell.
Eden Hazard’s downfall: From brilliance to burnout
Early in July 2018, Belgium’s golden generation had their heart broken for the umpteenth time when Samuel Umtiti’s header saw them eliminated in the semifinals of the FIFA World Cup in Russia. There still was a game to come, but it was difficult to believe that Roberto Martinez’s men could put up a brave face once again and battle it out.
The ever-insignificant third-place match between Belgium and England soon kicked off at Krestovsky Stadium. Leading 1-0 with seven minutes to go, Eden Hazard received the ball from Kevin De Bruyne, nonchalantly skipped past Phil Jones, sent Jordan Pickford the wrong way and slammed it into the near post.
The goal summed up everything about the then-Chelsea star’s campaign. Simple, elegant and filled with confidence. Hazard picked up the silver ball in the World Cup that year and was only behind Luka Modric as the best player in the tournament. Fast forward four years and Hazard barely came off the bench for his national team in Qatar.
Still just 32, age was not the factor that saw his prominence for the Red Devils fall so steeply. Moreover, the fact that not a soul batted their eye over his absence spoke volumes about the forward’s difficult four years.
Hazard was always one to be considered naturally gifted. Since the day he first played for a club at just four years old, onlookers knew they were seeing something special blossom.
In 2005, the player’s hunt for professional training took him to Lille, France. In two years, he had his first contract and made his debut for the first team aged just 16. A special chapter in his career thus began, one in which he would go on to score 36 times in 147 appearances.
It was only in June 2012 that the winger moved to Chelsea, a club in which he would go on to rewrite history. Many call him the most skilful player to have ever donned the blue colours of London, even to this day.
In his seven years at Chelsea, he took the club to the Premier League title twice. Although the UEFA Champions League proved to be a steep challenge, he won the UEFA Europa League twice in addition to two domestic cups.
To this day, the Premier League club’s website describes Hazard as a ‘shining star with special skill, speed and a smile.‘ Yet, there are many in Madrid and across the globe who would argue with every letter of that statement with their all. What brought about such a radical change in stature after all?
A fateful move to Madrid
When Real Madrid come calling, very few players even have the mind to think twice about the offer. Los Blancos‘ call is said to be a train that passes only once, and it would be devastating for any individual to miss out on the opportunity having been presented with it.
At the end of a taxing transfer saga, the Belgian International announced his departure from Chelsea to Real Madrid in the summer of 2019. The move involved a fee of €100 million, one that could increase to €146 million with variables.
The premonitory signs of an unsuccessful transfer were there for the taking from the get-go. Hazard arrived at the Real Madrid training camp unfit, overweight and unsurprisingly sluggish. He forced a strong presence in the media to defend his position, but it was clear that he already could not handle the spotlight.
A lack of fitness delayed his debut for the club by two months. Understandably fazed by his new environment and the novel system, it took the forward close to a month to record his first goal and assist which came against Granada at the Santiago Bernabeu.
From there on began a chain of vicious injuries and setbacks that took the player’s career to the cleaners.
Hazard was at the receiving end of a harsh challenge in Real Madrid’s clash against PSG that ruled him out of action for 15 games. The hairline crack was soon resolved, but he was again forced to spend 76 days on the sidelines for a fissure on his Fibula.
The 2020-21 season for Hazard was perhaps the worst any sportsperson could go through. A combination of muscular setbacks and COVID saw him miss a combined 174 days of action and reduced his presence in the squad to a mere formality.
Two years into his Real Madrid career, the Belgian had taken no quantifiable steps towards establishing himself at the club. And things hardly improved for him in his third season at the club, even as Los Blancos won the La Liga and the Champions League under Carlo Ancelotti.
“These have been three difficult years but next year I will give everything for you guys. I’m sure that next year will be mine, I’ve no doubts,” he said emotionally in an interview after being carried to a UCL without contributing.
Yet, with half the season past him, Hazard has only featured 102 minutes on the field in La Liga.
The most embarrassing development in his Real Madrid chapter, perhaps one that cannot be superseded, came early in February. An out-of-the-blue statement from the club revealed that Hazard suffered from patellar tendinosis in his left knee, all while not participating in the team’s last six games.
It has never been in doubt, but his latest injury forces one to ponder again – Is there really a way back from the mess Hazard is in?
What next for Eden Hazard
“Thank you for your love and support, a page turns today”, a clearly moved Hazard said while announcing his international retirement after Belgium’s disastrous FIFA World Cup campaign.
Over four years after winning the silver ball award in his prime, the Real Madrid ace had dropped one of the worst campaigns in a red shirt and was clearly not very happy about it.
Truth be told, many saw the move coming from afar. As harsh as it may sound, it may not be long before the world hears him face the press once more, this time announcing quits from the sport.
Football is a game of mental fortitude as much as it is of physical nuance. Hazard has lived his days as the best, amongst the best and against the best in England.
Little did the world know that the Belgian’s peak years were the ones seen as his stepping stones to greatness.
“I’ve doubted maybe going through enough injuries. I didn’t know whether I’d be at my best. I’ve broken my ankle three times and I don’t know if it will ever be the same again”, he said in 2021.
Now, with two more years and a host of injuries more in his bag, it would be criminal to even expect him to be in a position of mental strength. For all the resilience the winger has shown over the years, it all feels too overwhelming to continue beyond a point.
The hope for Hazard to return to his imperial best will live on. The dream that one day, the former wing-wizard will run through the opposition defence with his signature cutbacks and shimmies of the foot is one that will never leave the minds of Real Madrid fans.
But what seems clear at this point is that Hazard’s days as a Galactico are numbered. The 32-year-old will enter the final year of his contract in the summer and will most certainly be offloaded by Real Madrid.
Perhaps, a change of surroundings could help Hazard gather some of his lost gloss back. But a comeback from such physical, mental and emotional rock-bottom would be difficult even through a miracle. So, it would not come as a surprise if he decides to step away from the game altogether, following in the footsteps of former teammate Gareth Bale.