Real Madrid boosted by Eden Hazard return but home form a concern ahead of Man City and Barcelona tests

Ben Hayward
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Eden Hazard was back on Sunday and it was as if it he had never been away.

The Belgian's return against Celta Vigo was good news for Real Madrid. The 29-year-old showed no signs of discomfort as he slotted back in on the left side of Los Blancos' attack, linked up well and won a penalty for the LaLiga leaders.

As he left the pitch to warm applause with 17 minutes left, Zinedine Zidane's side led the match and his intervention had completed the turnaround. Everything appeared in order, but Real conceded a late goal as he watched on from the sidelines and saw their lead at the top of the table cut to a single point.

“I felt good,” Hazard told Movistar after the match at the Santiago Bernabeu. “The first 10 minutes, I was a bit tired, but I felt better as the game wore on.

“I’m happy with my performance, but not with the result. I hope we can improve in the next games."

Madrid fans will hope so too. Since he hurt his ankle in another 2-2 draw, at home to Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League in late November, Zidane's side have moved top of LaLiga and also won the Spanish Supercopa. They have also gone undefeated in that time.

But their home form remains a concern. Madrid have dropped points at the Bernabeu this term against Real Valladolid (15th), Betis (12th), Athletic Club (10th) and now Celta (18th ahead of kick-off).

This performance was reminiscent of some of Real's early-season displays. There was a lack of intensity at times, not enough clear chances created and mistakes at the back.

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Marcelo was a surprise starter, but this time the defensive errors were not his fault. Captain Sergio Ramos moved forward and out of position for both of Celta's goals, leaving space behind him, and a hesitant Raphael Varane played Fedor Smolov onside for the opener.

The second one arrived following an extraordinary assist by Denis Suarez close to the end, but the midfielder may not have been able to find the space to play his pinpoint pass through to Santi Mina had Ramos not moved out of position.

It is failure to win these fixtures which has seen Madrid struggle to match Barca in LaLiga in recent years, with the feeling that Los Blancos are often lacking motivation in such games. A pre-match Marca headline calling Celta "a great deal" for Zidane (due to the Frenchman's record of six wins out of seven and 26 goals to six in previous league meetings) will hardly have helped.

Real's relaxation in the first half ultimately cost them. Tactically, Celta were excellent, yet Madrid were also predictable. Constant crosses into the visitors' area were comfortably dealt with and although ZIdane's side improved after the interval, it was insufficient.

Fede Valverde has dipped slightly after an extraordinary few months, while Karim Benzema has also faded following a super start to the season and Gareth Bale was ineffective again – as well as fortunate to escape a red card for an ugly challenge on Rafinha.

But above all, it is perhaps a concentration issue. "Madrid pay dearly for their siesta," Marca wrote.

"We have to analyse what we did wrong and correct it for the next games," goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois said after the game.


And Zidane agreed. "We have to improve, because there will be more difficult matches after this," he said.

The next two are huge and could go a long way to defining Madrid's season as Los Blancos host Manchester City in the last 16 of the Champions League next Wednesday, before the Clasico clash against Barca at the Bernabeu the following Sunday.

Hazard's return to action is a significant boost for Real ahead of this vital period of games, but Sunday's slip-up should serve as a warning of an altogether different type of hazard to Zidane and Madrid in the next two matches at home.

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