A marquee signing reminiscent of the Galactico era, the signing of Eden Hazard was lauded as potentially one of the greatest in the club’s history. The Belgian produced week-in, week-out for Chelsea in the hardest and most competitive league in the world, leaving defenders in his wake as he went about his business with the guile resonant of some of the great players in the league’s history.
Appearance after appearance, assist after assist, completed dribble after completed dribble, and goal after goal – the path to Madrid was a clear one. And when Ronaldo moved on, the Belgian wizard seemed like the perfect replacement coming in off the left wing akin to the great Portuguese master. In an easier, less-competitive, and les physical league – the transition was supposed to be a smooth one. It was far from that.
When he turned up in his first pre-season, he looked a fraction of the athlete he was at Chelsea. The lean, mean athlete was all of a sudden somebody who looked like they were out of shape, physically challenged, and unfit in general. He struggled with his pace, and in a league that is half the pace of the premier league, the Belgian looked off the pace in most games he played in.
Given they were expected to challenge for honours on all fronts – 6/4 joint favourites with Barcelona for the title with most bookies here, the Madristas find themselves of the strong pace set by the relentless and defensively brilliant Atletico Madrid. Hazard has turned out not to be the solution, but the problem.
Struggling with injuries, he has had restricted game time. And to add to his injury woes, the issue of the global Covid-19 outbreak has further stalled his season.
Once a genius, an unplayable one at that, Hazard looks a fraction of his once brilliant self. Age isn’t on his side either – and Madrid fans don’t take poor performances lightly.
Atletico Madrid’s recent wobble in form continued as they fell to a first defeat in 12 league games after losing 2-0 at home to Levante.
The La Liga leaders have taken only five points from four games in February and Real Madrid will close the gap at the top to just three points if they beat Real Valladolid later on Saturday.
Jose Luis Morales gave the visitors the lead on the half-hour mark with a deflected strike from just inside the area to deceive ‘keeper Jan Oblak.
Jorge de Frutos knocked into an empty net to score the second in added time after Oblak had ventured forward for a corner.
Atletico came out fighting in the second half as they sought to avoid a first league defeat since December but Levante goalkeeper Daniel Cardenas made a total of 10 saves including an outstanding late stop to deny substitute Thomas Lemar.
Luis Suarez hit the post with a vicious free-kick, Angel Correa saw a goal ruled out for a foul by Suarez and Joao Felix missed two gilt-edged chances for an Atletico side that had 28 shots on goal.
Real Madrid can move within three points of Diego Simeone’s side – though will have played a game more – while Barcelona will move six points behind Atletico if they beat Cadiz on Sunday.
In La Liga’s early game, Elche gave their survival hopes a shot in the arm with a 1-0 win over Eibar. Dani Calvo’s 33rd-minute goal settled a game that saw the winners move level on points down at the bottom with their opponents.
Bundesliga: Bayern beaten
Amin Younes scored a superb goal and helped create another as Eintracht Frankfurt beat Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich 2-1 on Saturday to stay on course for a Champions League spot.
Former Germany international Younes, on loan from Napoli, helped set up Daichi Kamada for the first goal after 12 minutes as Frankfurt stretched their unbeaten run to 11 league games.
With Germany coach Joachim Low watching in the stands ahead of international matches in March, Younes, who won the last of five Germany caps in 2017, thundered in a shot from the edge of the box in the 31st minute after taking on the entire Bayern defence.
Bayern, who were missing several players, including Thomas Muller and Benjamin Pavard, remain on 49 points, with second-placed RB Leipzig – who have 44 – in action at Hertha Berlin on Sunday.
Fourth-placed Frankfurt are level on 42 points with VfL Wolfsburg, who are third and won 3-0 at Arminia Bielefeld on Friday.
Elsewhere, Borussia Monchengladbach’s European aspirations suffered a big blow with a 2-1 loss at Mainz 05 after Kevin Stoeger’s 86th-minute winner saw them drop to eighth place on 33.
Real Madrid continued to cling to the coat-tails of city rivals Atletico in the La Liga title race after winning 2-0 at home against Valencia.
First-half goals from Karim Benzema and Toni Kroos won the game as Zinedine Zidane’s team moved above Barcelona and into second place in the table, five points behind leaders Atletico, who have two games in hand.
Zidane switched from a 3-4-3 formation to a 4-3-3 as he made two changes following a 2-0 win over Getafe, with Marcelo and Marvin Park making way for Dani Carvajal and Kroos.
Valencia made just one change to the side that drew with Athletic Bilbao as Ferro replaced Hugo Guillamon in defence.
There was a nervous early moment from Jaume Domenech when the Valencia goalkeeper misjudged Casemiro’s long-range shot, diving past the ball before having to desperately flick out a leg to divert it over the crossbar.
Domenech was beaten two minutes later when Madrid took the lead. Benzema drifted beyond Thierry Correia before whipping a low shot into the bottom corner of the net from just outside the box.
Benzema would have had a second goal after half an hour had it not been for a brilliant saving block by Gabriel.
Domenech beat away a 25-yard effort by Luka Modric as the hosts searched for a second goal, which arrived three minutes before half-time when Kroos stylishly steered Lucas Vazquez’s cutback into the net from the edge of the penalty area.
Valencia offered very little but almost halved the deficit early in the second half when Maxi Gomez’s fierce strike forced Thibaut Courtois into an acrobatic save to tip it away.
The margin of victory would have been greater for Madrid had Domenech not made a fine save to block another Benzema effort, while Ferland Mendy had a goal chalked off by VAR.
Elsewhere, Alexander Isak scored a 30th-minute winner as Real Sociedad won 1-0 at Getafe to move past Villarreal into fifth place. Osasuna were also 1-0 winners at Levante.
Serie A – Roma into third
Jordan Veretout scored twice to help Roma beat Udinese 3-0 and move into third in the standings.
Udinese came into the match on the back of three successive clean sheets but it took Roma just five minutes to end that streak when Veretout headed home Gianluca Mancini’s cross from the right.
Veretout doubled his tally 20 minutes later from the penalty spot after Udinese goalkeeper Juan Musso brought down Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Veretout thought he had also added an assist shortly after when he set up Lorenzo Pellegrini, but the goal was disallowed for a Mkhitaryan foul in the build-up.
Udinese had several chances to reduce the deficit in the second half, notably when home goalkeeper Pau Lopez did brilliantly to fingertip the ball away from Gerard Deulofeu, who had been sent clear on goal following a horrendous mistake by Roma midfielder Bryan Cristante.
Pedro added a third for Roma in stoppage time with a delightful strike into the top right corner after he was set up by fellow substitute Edin Dzeko.
Luis Muriel again came off the bench to score a last-gasp winner for Atalanta in a 1-0 victory at relegation-threatened Cagliari.
Muriel collected a long, cross-field pass, wriggled between two Cagliari players and slammed home a powerful shot.
Cagliari thought they had been given a stoppage-time chance to equalise when they were awarded a penalty after Marten de Roon appeared to trip Daniele Rugani, but it was rescinded after the referee reviewed the incident on the pitchside monitor.
Elsewhere, Sampdoria beat Fiorentina 2-1 while Sassuolo were also 2-1 winners at Crotone.
Ligue 1 – Lille back top, but only by a point
Lille reclaimed top spot in Ligue 1 but their lead shrunk to a single point as they were held to a goalless home draw by Stade Brestois.
The northerners, who had a goal disallowed by the VAR, have 55 points from 25 games as their six-match winning streak in the league came to an end.
After a lacklustre opening half, Lille increased the pressure but the visitors stayed compact at the back.
Jonathan David found the back of the net from close range but the goal was disallowed following a VAR review for a handball by Jose Fonte. Lille ended the game with not a single shot on target.
Monaco avoided a first defeat in 2021 as Wissam Ben Yedder, who scored twice, netted three minutes into stoppage time to salvage a point in a 2-2 home draw against Lorient.
Elsewhere, Antoine Kombouare won his first game in charge as Nantes beat Angers 3-1 away to snap a 15-match winless streak.
Nimes were 2-0 winners at Dijon, Strasbourg won 2-1 away to Metz while St Etienne also won on the road, beating Rennes 2-0.
Bundesliga – Frankfurt boost CL hopes
In-form Eintracht Frankfurt bolstered their bid for a place in the Champions League next season with a 2-0 win over Cologne.
Goals from Andre Silva and Evan Ndicka in the second half gave Frankfurt their seventh win from eight games in 2021 and stretched their unbeaten run in the league to 10 games.
Adi Hutter’s team missed a number of chances to score in the first half and Silva had a goal ruled out through VAR. The ball had gone out of play in the build-up early in the second, before the Portuguese finally broke the deadlock in the 57th minute.
Erik Durm tried his luck from distance but the shot was deflected into Silva’s path by teammate Daichi Kamada and the forward wasted no time in dinking it over the outrushing goalkeeper Timo Horn. Filip Kostic sent in a corner for defender Ndicka to head Frankfurt’s second in the 79th minute.
Elsewhere, Wolfsburg were held to a 0-0 draw by Borussia Moenchengladbach as their four-match winning run in the Bundesliga came to an end.
Yannick Gerhardt and Xaver Schlager almost snatched a dramatic victory at the death for the hosts but they were left frustrated.
Real Madrid’s French duo Karim Benzema and Ferland Mendy struck in the second half as the Spanish champions overcame an injury crisis to beat Getafe 2-0 at home on Tuesday and close the gap to La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid to five points.
Benzema leapt to connect with a curling cross from Vinicius Jr. and head Real in front on the hour-mark, giving the hosts a deserved lead after dominating the first half against an unambitious Getafe side who had only one shot on goal all game.
French left-back Ferland Mendy doubled their lead six minutes later, starting the move with a bursting run through midfield before sliding in to knock home a cross from Marcelo.
The victory took Zinedine Zidane’s side into second in the standings and left them five points below Atletico, who drew 2-2 with Celta Vigo on Monday to end an eight-game winning streak but have two games in hand.
“This win gives us a lot of confidence, I think we are on our way back to our best,” said Benzema.
“Getafe always make things difficult for you but we put in a big performance. We’re just focusing on ourselves, we’re not looking at the league table but we’re going to try to win every game because there’s still a long way to go in the season.”
Real were missing nine first-team players through injury or suspension, which led Zidane to field an unorthodox 3-4-3 formation which was particularly effective down the left-hand side due to the twin threat of left-backs Mendy and Marcelo.
He also gave 20-year-old midfielder Marvin Park his first start for the club, although the youngster only lasted 55 minutes before being taken off for 19-year-old Sergio Arribas.
Defender Victor Chust also came on late to make his league debut.
Juventus hold Inter to reach Coppa Italia final
Juventus booked a place in the Coppa Italia final after holding visitors Inter Milan to a 0-0 draw in their semi-final, second leg on Tuesday, sealing a date with either Napoli or Atalanta with a 2-1 success on aggregate.
Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez had chances to get Inter back in the tie in the first half, while Cristiano Ronaldo came closest to adding to Juve’s aggregate advantage in the opening period, having scored both of their goals in the first leg.
After the break, Ronaldo turned on the style and was only denied another goal in the tie by two fine saves from Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic.
Inter threw everything at Juve late on but veteran keeper Gianluigi Buffon and his defence stood firm to secure a spot in the showpiece match against the winners of Wednesday’s semi, with Atalanta hosting Napoli after a 0-0 draw in the first leg.
With the away goals rule in place, Inter had to go for it and with Martinez and Lukaku in the starting line-up, Antonio Conte’s side certainly had the firepower to trouble the hosts.
But 43-year-old Buffon, used only sparingly by Juve coach Andrea Pirlo this season, was rarely tested, despite Christian Eriksen putting plenty of dangerous crosses into the box.
Inter committed more players forward as the match wore on, but the pressure was soaked up by the home defence as the visitors finished the match without scoring for the seventh successive trip to Juventus in all competitions.
The result booked the Turin side a 20th Coppa Italia final appearance on May 19, with a re-run of last season’s showpiece – when Napoli beat Juve on penalties – still possible
Raphael Varane scored twice as Real Madrid came from behind to snatch a 2-1 victory at basement-side Huesca in La Liga on Saturday and offer some respite to coach Zinedine Zidane.
Huesca took a shock lead against the Spanish champions early in the second half with a vicious strike in off the post from Javi Galan, and nearly doubled their advantage moments later when Rafa Mir struck the bar.
Real pulled level in the 55th minute when Karim Benzema thumped a free-kick off the top of the bar and the ball bounced perfectly for Varane to head home from close range.
The France defender then struck the winner, bundling over the line in the 84th minute following another free-kick, to spare his side’s blushes.
Zidane had hit out at reporters in the build-up to the game over speculation about his future in light of disappointing results but the win took his side second in the standings on 43 points, seven behind Atletico Madrid, who have two games in hand.
Elsewhere strugglers Elche held Champions League chasing Villarreal to a 2-2 draw and Roberto Soldado scored a 92nd-minute equaliser as Granada snatched a point at Levante in a game that also finished 2-2
Ronaldo strikes as Juve leapfrog Roma
Cristiano Ronaldo marked his birthday in style as he opened the scoring in Juventus’ vital 2-0 victory over Roma.
Ronaldo had not scored in three games and after turning 36 on Friday, he needed just 13 minutes to put his mini-slump behind him as he found the bottom corner from the edge of the box.
It was his 23rd goal of the season in all competitions, his 16th in just 17 Serie A games and the 300th he has managed since he turned 30.
Ronaldo came close to adding to those numbers before the break when his deflected effort hit the underside of the bar and somehow stayed out.
Dejan Kulusevski’s cross was then diverted into his own net by Roger Ibanez with Ronaldo prowling to make it 2-0 and put the game to bed midway through the second half.
The victory moves Juve into third, five points behind leaders Inter Milan and four behind AC Milan, who can go back to the top if they beat Crotone on Sunday afternoon.
Neighbours Torino rescued a point at Atalanta after finding themselves 3-0 down inside 21 minutes, Federicco Bonazzoli notched the equaliser in the closing stages after they had reduced the deficit to just one at half-time.
Spezia picked up a surprise 2-1 victory at Sassuolo, while Napoli travel to Genoa in the day’s late game.
Dortmund slump again but RB Leipzig cruise
Borussia Dortmund conceded two goals in three minutes to slump to a 2-1 loss at Freiburg that sees them concede ground in the race for a Champions League place.
Dortmund, now 16 points behind leaders Bayern Munich, have long given up on the title but a third loss in the last four league games keeps them in sixth place in the Bundesliga.
Freiburg stunned the visitors with two goals in three minutes after the break with Jeong Woo-yeong firing in from 20 metres in the 49th minute and Jonathan Schmid on target in the 52nd minute.
Emre Can had hit the woodwork in the first half for Dortmund but they were dazed following the double strike after the break.
The introduction of 16-year-old Youssoufa Moukoko gave them some inspiration but though he cut the deficit in the 77th minute after a good run from Erling Haaland, he could do nothing more to avoid his club’s fourth loss in the last five away matches.
Dortmund are on 32 points, three points off Bayer Leverkusen, who currently occupy the fourth spot that grants entry to Europe’s top club competition.
Leverkusen’s 5-2 win over Stuttgart was capped by new signing Demarai Gray’s first goal on his Bundesliga debut after switching from Leicester.
Kerem Demirbay scored twice to put Leverkusen on course before Sasa Kalajdzic pulled one back in the 50th minute.
Leon Bailey made it 3-1 though there were justified complaints from Stuttgart that Timothy Fosu-Mensah should have been penalised for handball at the other end.
Florian Wirtz headed Leverkusen’s fourth, and Gray killed the game in the 84th minute after Kalajdzic had scored his second.
RB Leipzig cruised past Schalke 04 3-0 to stay seven points behind Bayern Munich and leave their opponents anchored at the bottom of the table.
Nordi Mukiele struck in first-half stoppage time when he drilled in a corner but they had to wait until the 73rd minute to add a second through Marcel Sabitzer, before Willi Orban’s 87th-minute header made it 3-0.
Shkodran Mustafi made his Schalke debut despite not training with the team after joining from Arsenal but could not help his new side add to a paltry total of just eight points from 20 games.
Elsewhere, Wolfsburg consolidated third place by beating Augsburg 2-0, Mainz boosted their chances of survival by downing 10-man Union Berlin 1-0 and Cologne tasted Rhine derby success with a 2-1 victory over Borussia Monchengladbach.