The Blues superstar talked up a move to Los Blancos but has since seen his goals dry up – one of his longest ever droughts
On October 7, Belgium winger Eden Hazard netted the opener in Chelsea’s 3-0 win at Southampton to make it 10 goals in 10 games for club and country.
After excelling under Roberto Martinez at the World Cup in the summer, the 27-year-old was now clearly loving life at Stamford Bridge, with new manager Maurizio Sarri having discarded the defensive shackles placed upon him by predecessor Antonio Conte.
“I am really in the game,” Hazard enthused. “I am playing good football at the moment.” This was music to the ears of all Chelsea fans.
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What followed, though, hit them hard. Hazard was asked about Real Madrid’s continued interest in his services and he replied, “They’re the best club in the world. I don’t want to lie today: it is my dream since I was a kid.
“We will see. I don’t want to talk about this every day. I don’t have time, but we will talk about my future soon. When you have a dream, you want to make it happen.
“It is like I have said a lot of times, if I leave I will be happy. I know if I stay, I will be happy. It is not like if I go, I am happy and if I stay that I am unhappy.”
Two months on, though, Hazard isn’t happy, either with his form or his fitness. He hasn’t scored since the Southampton game; 10 games, zero goals.
In October, Sarri had set his No.10 a target of 40 goals this season. However, even just bettering his best-ever haul of 19 goals in all competitions looks a stretch right now.
Certainly, injuries haven’t helped. He took a blow to his back against Manchester United before picking up an ankle knock that he still seems to be struggling with.
Indeed, this is his longest goal drought since that season under Mourinho in 2015-16, when he went 17 games without finding the back of the net. Obviously, he and Mourinho were no longer working in sync but he was also struggling physically, just as he is now.
The injuries are clearly taking their toll and, after being forced to leave Hazard out of the Europa League clash with PAOK, Sarri confessed, “I am worried because 25 days ago he had an injury, a back injury, and now, because of the ankle, he has missed a lot of training.
“So, it’s normal he wouldn’t be top of his physical condition. But with one week of training and a couple of matches, he’ll be back at the best level of physical condition.”
Chelsea will certainly hope so. Sarri’s side have won just three of their six Premier League games since Hazard’s last goal and suffered their first defeat of the season 10 days ago, against Tottenham at Wembley.
Consequently, Chelsea have gone from mounting a credible title challenge to facing a serious fight for fourth. The third-placed Blues now trail Manchester City by seven points, whereas Arsenal and Spurs are now both just one point behind in fourth and fifth, respectively.
Chelsea, thus, need Hazard fit and firing again as soon as possible. So brilliant was his start to the season that he remains their top scorer in all competitions, with eight goals. He has also still been directly involved in more goals this season (12) than every player in the Premier League bar the in-form Raheem Sterling.
Granted, the improving Alvaro Morata now has seven goals in all competitions, while Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Pedro, Willian, Olivier Giroud and Ross Barkley have all stepped up at times to varying degrees of success.
However, it was Hazard’s genius that was papering over the defensive and midfield cracks that Sarri was continually highlighting during Chelsea’s 18-game undefeated start to the season.
And with playmaker Jorginho having been successfully snuffed out in recent weeks, first by Everton and then by Spurs, Hazard’s dramatic dip in form becomes even more concerning.
Whether or not Chelsea finish in the top four will likely hinge on Hazard’s bid to rediscover his best form in the crucial Christmas period. His late assist for Loftus-Cheek in last weekend’s much-needed win over Fulham is a positive sign but it is clear that he is still not yet back to his brilliant best.
Still, the games are now set to come thick and fast for Chelsea, starting with Wednesday’s potentially tricky trip to Wolves and Saturday’s showdown with Man City at the Bridge, but that could well be a blessing in disguise.
Firstly, Hazard has always needed a prolonged run of games to find his groove. Secondly, the packed fixture list should keep him fully focused on the task at hand – and thus keep his mind off Madrid.