Hazard’s Arrival at Real Madrid Would Help Ronaldo Take the Next Step
3rd May 2017. By Ryan Baldi.
With Cristiano Ronaldo ebbing slowly out of his prime, the rumours that Real Madrid have made Chelsea’s Eden Hazard their top summer target could perhaps be construed as bad news for the four-time Ballon d’Or winner.
The 32-year-old Portuguese superstar, who is just nine months removed from leading his national side to success in the European Championships, is still able to boast an impressive return of 32 goals from 40 games this season. However, his current strike rate of 0.8 goals per game is lower than at any other point in his eight years with Los Blancos.
It goes without saying that, having bagged a hat-trick to see off Bayern Munich at the quarter-final stage, Ronaldo remains key to any hope Madrid have of becoming the first team to retain the European Cup in the Champions League era. But manager Zinédine Zindane would be wise to already be formulating a succession plan for his iconic No.7.
With that in mind, Madrid’s pursuit of Hazard makes perfect sense. At 25, the diminutive Belgian still has his best years ahead of him, and is already at a level which would see him walk into any side in the world and instantly make them better.
As a right-footer operating from the left side of Chelsea’s attack, benefitting from the freedom to move inside and terrorise opposition defences from central zones, Hazard is accustomed to a generally similar role to that which Ronaldo has shone in since his £80 million move from Manchester United in 2009.
But, having recently penned a new six-year contract at the Santiago Bernabéu, it is far too early to start writing obituaries of Ronaldo’s Real Madrid career. The former Sporting Clube de Portugal star is certainly having to come to terms with the reality of his fading powers, but he remains one of the most prolific goal-scorers on the planet, and his single-minded desire to succeed will alone keep him relevant for a few more years yet.
So, rather than coming in to replace Ronaldo, Hazard’s potential arrival in the Spanish capital could help accelerate a transformation in the Portuguese’s role within Zidane’s side.
Quick over 10 yards, powerful in the air, an accurate striker of the ball with either foot and expert at timing runs into the box, Ronaldo still possesses far too many gifts to be considered surplus to requirements. But, no longer able to dribble past multiple opponents or sprint the length of the pitch in sweeping counter-attacks, the wing may no longer be the best home for the ex-Red Devil.
Indeed, the amount of take-ons per game that Ronaldo completes on average has steadily reduced since he reached his 30s, falling from 1.5 in 2014-15 to 1.4 the following campaign, and now just 0.8 this term.
Contrastingly, Hazard has completed a staggering 4.1 dribbles per game in the Premier League this season; his creative flair and, when at his best, unplayable dynamism has powered Chelsea towards reclaiming the title they so limply defended a year ago.
Hazard is also becoming a more regular scorer. Though not yet at Ronaldo’s level in this sense, his return of 15 league goals is the Belgian international’s highest tally since moving to England in 2012; surrounded by the attacking talent on display at the Bernabéu and benefitting from the dominance Madrid enjoy over most of La Liga, this figure would surely only rise if he were to become the latest Galáctico.
Therefore, rather than drop Ronaldo from the team entirely, it would make perfect sense to let Hazard take up residence on the left side of Zidane’s front three with Ronaldo moving centrally to become an out-and-out striker.
The position would not be entirely unfamiliar to Ronaldo, having spent time in the role during the latter stages of his United career and on occasions for Madrid too. Although he has always preferred to start from the left and come inside, more easily evading the attentions of opposing defenders, the aforementioned reduction in some of his physical attributes are making this increasingly difficult.
A move inside at this point would play to Ronaldo’s remaining powers: with Marcelo and Dani Carvajal providing excellent width and consistent deliveries into the box, his aerial dominance would be an even greater weapon for Madrid; the accuracy with which Toni Kroos and Luka Modrić are able to slot through-balls from midfield would see him suffer no shortage of scoring chances.
Furthermore, for the last few seasons, Madrid’s shape when out of position has been 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 with the No.7 in a central position, rather than augmenting the midfield and supporting the full-backs as Gareth Bale is asked to do from the right; a permanent switch to centre-forward really does seem like a natural progression for Ronaldo at this point.
Hazard coming in on the left would mean that less shifting of positions is required when Madrid lose the ball as, although not always the most enthusiastic in carrying out such duties, the Chelsea star is used to tracking back and defending in wide zones. There would be no need for the midfield three to shuffle to the left as Bale moves back to join them, or, as is often the case, for Karim Benzema to cover an unnecessary amount of ground to do Ronaldo’s defending for him.
If the recent reports in Belgium are to be believed and Hazard has agreed the financials over a summer move to the European Champions, then it will likely be Benzema who finds himself the odd man out. It will be unfortunate for the Frenchman, whose work-ethic and unselfishness has played no small part in Ronaldo and Bale’s individual success at the Bernabéu. But the former Lyon striker has always been the most expendable of the “BBC” trio, even if his importance might only be truly appreciated once he is no longer there.
The unimaginable time when age finally catches up with Ronaldo and calls time on one of the most illustrious careers the game has ever known is creeping into view.
But Hazard moving to Real Madrid would not signal Ronaldo’s demise, rather it would allow him to prolong his record-breaking stay in Madrid; progression amid the regression.