Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti said at a press conference before Sunday’s match against Levante that he was going to try to turn Marco Asensio from a right winger into a midfielder. The writing was on the wall for Asensio on the wing after a dreadful 2020-2021 season, though it wasn’t his fault that he was miscast as an inverted winger in Real’s 4-3-3. Asensio came off the bench against Levante in midfield, and this is the first step in a position change that could be the key to the Andalusian saving his Real Madrid career.
However, Asensio isn’t the only notable name who could be headed for a switch from the wing to an attacking midfield role. Eden Hazard is quietly in a very similar situation to Asensio, and Vinicius Junior’s return of three goals in 55 minutes off the bench has accelerated discussions among Madridistas.
Hazard has looked sharp with his touches and more confident with his ankle in the first two matches of the season. But his overall influence on matches has been minimal, aside from one trademark brilliant touch to assist Karim Benzema against Alaves.
Ever since his first significant ankle injury against PSG, Hazard has lost that pep in his step. He is no longer the player making penetrative runs into the box, carrying the ball, ruling the pitch, and making defenders scared. Hazard, even against Alaves, is now more of a player based on quick flicks, touches, and drifting in and around space than he is a ball-carrier. He is playing more and more like a false nine or a central playmaker rather than a wide playmaker or inverted winger, which was the case in his heyday.
Eden Hazard cannot provide the scoring or dynamism Real Madrid need from their LW in a 4-3-3
Asensio could not fulfill the demands of playing on the wing at Real Madrid, and it is certainly a demanding position in football. There is nothing more valuable than having an inverted winger who can create their own shot and finish. Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale are living proof of that. But it is so, so hard to find those players. In order for Real to be at their best, meet the sky-high expectation of winning a trophy every season, and withstand increasingly tough LaLiga defenses, they need their wingers to take on that responsibility.
Clearly, Asensio was not fit for this role. Bale has taken the mantle on the right-hand side, and what he lacks in juice as he ages, he makes up for in his clinicality. And we saw a glimpse of that with his goal against Levante.
It is still early to tell, but it is true that Hazard has not been much of a scorer at Real Madrid. Ever since that injury against PSG, he has not been much of an on-the-ball force either, in terms of creating his own opportunities. Certainly, he’s not been as electrifying on the ball from the left-hand side as Vinicius and Rodrygo Goes.
So as Vinicius stands out and Hazard looks more and more apt to transition to a central, connective role rather than a goal-contributing, commanding superstar, the sands of time may be ticking on the high-priced Belgian as a left winger. It is a position that means so much to Real Madrid, and since Bale can only touch the ball so many times given his own altered skill-set, the left winger must be even more dynamic.
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And Hazard is falling short in that regard. It’s not that he cannot be effective, nor is this a knock on how he has looked to start the season. It is, unfortunately, a reality that we must acknowledge. Hazard is not the same player he was when Real Madrid bought him. He can be successful, but he is not the No. 7. Real’s interest in Kylian Mbappe is a tacit acknowledgment of this, but if Mbappe is not signed, Carlo Ancelotti could decide to make a more explicit acknowledgment with a clearly defined role change. With Asensio, Don Carlo has already shown that he is not afraid to make bold changes and experiments to give Real any sort of edge.