Don’t blame Eden Hazard or Ancelotti for the lack of starts

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Eden Hazard picked up yet another injury while on international duty with Belgium that kept him out of action for Real Madrid against Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League. Despite the Belgian’s absence, Los Blancos sealed an important 5-0 win on away soil.

Hazard worked hard to recover in time after missing the Shakhtar game for the El Clasico. The former Chelsea winger has not yet featured in the Clasico since signing in 2019 and was keen on making his first appearance in the world’s most popular sporting rivalry.

Despite recovering in time for the fixture at Camp Nou, Carlo Ancelotti left Eden Hazard as an unused substitute in the game. Ancelotti’s decision of not using Hazard did not backfire as Los Blancos clinched three points in a 2-1 win at Camp Nou. So much so, the need for the 30-year-old on the field was not felt at all as Vinicius Jr and Rodrygo Goes ran the show.

The decision to bring on Marco Asensio over Eden Hazard for Vinicius Jr late in the second half caught the media’s attention that the 30-year-old has possibly fallen down the pecking order under the manager’s eyes.

Well is that the case? Carlo Ancelotti was questioned on his decision in the pre-match press conference prior to the Osasuna game on Eden Hazard. The Italian manager, who has been rather cut-throat and candid with his views/ opinions while on interviews this season, stated :

“Hazard’s problem is not his form, but the fact that the manager prefers someone else. He has to keep working”- MARCA

Who should be held responsible at Real Madrid for Eden Hazard’s current condition?

At the very start of the season, Carlo Ancelotti mentioned that he wanted more from Real Madrid’s forwards to ease the pressure off Karim Benzema who was the sole provider of goals. The biggest question was whether Ancelotti could tap into Vinicius Jr’s potential to make him one of the best forward’s or resurrect Eden Hazard’s career to help the club.

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While Hazard struggled to leave a mark early in the season with the chances he received, Vinicius Jr. seized every opportunity whilst coming off the bench. The Brazilian had three goals in two games and Ancelotti stated that he clearly deserves to win a starting spot in the team.

Since then, there’s been no turning back for Carlo Ancelotti or Vinicius Jr. The Italian has bestowed his faith in the Brazilian who has delivered consistently this season and has repaid the favour with his performances.

The 21-year-old has seven goals and five assists in 12 appearances across all competitions. He has already outscored Eden Hazard’s all-time Real Madrid goal tally (5) in just 12 games this season.

While Vinicius Jr has rightfully earned his spot in the eleven as an indispensable starter due to his output in the final third, there’s another factor to his game that has impressed Carlo Ancelotti and possibly what gives him the edge over Eden Hazard.

According to the stats provided on FbRef, Vinicius Jr has won more tackles (10) than David Alaba and Eder Militao have won ( 8 each). He’s also won 4 tackles in the defensive third, the most out of all the forwards. He’s only below Casemiro and Federico Valverde in terms of the total number of presses made so far in La Liga.

In terms of carrying the ball forward towards the opposition goal, Vinicius Jr has the third-highest number of carries and has covered the most progressive distance towards the final third. This just proves that the Brazilian puts in an extra shift every game. He’s not only scoring or creating chances but he’s helping the team in carrying the ball forward every game. He’s also one of the world’s best dribbles at the moment and is absolutely lethal one v ones.

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While Vinicius seems to be getting everything right in the offensive third, the main reason why Ancelotti puts him above Hazard would be his defensive work rate. He presses continuously and is often the first forward to track back and help the defence out when needed.

Real Madrid have been a mess defensively, especially in Ferland Mendy’s absence. With Mendy back, the defence seems to have found their rhythm and it looks more organised. The left-flank with Vinicius and Mendy is quite rock-solid since the Brazilian helps out in the defence effectively and tracks his marker.

The same cannot be said if Hazard starts over Vini since the Belgian enjoys operating in a free-role with lesser defensive duties and is not the kind of winger to track or mark the opposite full-back during a transition.

When Ancelotti said he prefers someone else over Hazard and that he needs to keep working. Maybe he meant that the Belgian needs to be patient and continue training hard as Vinicius Jr is currently undroppable given his form.

Another important factor is that Eden Hazard is not 100% fit yet, he’s just recovered from an injury and Ancelotti probably plans on giving the Belgian enough time to work with the physios and trainers to get him back to his best condition before venturing him out on the field as a regular starter. A relapse or another injury is something Real Madrid, Eden Hazard and Carlo Ancelotti would not want once again.

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Until then, Carlo Ancelotti cannot be held responsible for Eden Hazard’s lack of continuity nor can the Belgian hold himself responsible for his current state. Vinicius Jr at the moment is the deserving starter.

While Eden Hazard can start from the right-wing as well, Ancelotti seems to have found his go-to option in Rodyrgo Goes. The Brazilian has impressed the manager with his defensive work rate and ability upfront.

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Under Ancelotti, it looks like every player needs to fight and earn their place in the eleven. There’s no guaranteed starter and this healthy competition at the club seems to be paying its dividends on the field with all the resounding results.

Eden Hazard did receive some kind of immunity under Zinedine Zidane. The Frenchman would often play Hazard over the other forwards despite the Belgian just returning from an injury (a notable example would be the Manchester City knockout tie at the Etihad Stadium). Hazard no longer has that protected privilege he once had and now he has to compete for a spot just like every other player.

The 30-year-old could possibly start against Osasuna after Vinicius looked to have pulled a muscle against Barcelona in the dying minutes of the game. If Hazard does start, it would be a golden opportunity for him to seize the moment and impress his manager. Eden Hazard must take Ancelotti’s recent comments with a pinch of salt and bounce back when the opportunity arises.

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