Hazard to make debut against Levante; Valencia in crisis ahead of Barca clash - GulfToday

Hazard to make debut against Levante; Valencia in crisis ahead of Barca clash


Real Madrid’s Eden Hazard (right) attends a training session at the Ciudad Real Madrid training ground in Valdebebas on Friday. Agence France-Presse

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said on Friday that big-money summer signing Eden Hazard has been passed fit and will make his long-awaited La Liga debut against Levante on Saturday.

“We all want to see Eden,” said Zidane. “There’s a lot of pressure on him, a lot of expectation. But he is ready and that is the most important thing.”

Hazard was expected to make his debut in Vigo in the opening round in mid-August after joining Madrid for an initial 100 million euros from Chelsea in June.

But the Belgian pulled up with a thigh strain at the club’s training base in Valdebebas and had to sit out the first three weeks of the season during which Real struggled, collecting one win and two draws.

Zidane, however, called for patience as Hazard finds his feet again.

“We have to go gently,” he said. “He (Hazard) was injured for three weeks, he has been back for a week.

“We have seven games in 21 days and we will have to go gently. It will be up to me to keep an eye on his minutes and his playing time, because we need him over a long period, for several matches, not for one.”

Hazard’s return is timely for Madrid who also start their Champions League campaign against Paris Saint-Germain next week, especially as Luka Modric was ruled out this week with a groin strain.

“The season starts now,” said Zidane. “We have seven games in 21 days and I think that’s what we need, anyway, to play, make matches, compete... that’s what players want.”

The Frenchman also shrugged off criticism of the team following their indifferent start to the season.

“The comments, everything that is said, that’s not going to change,” he said.

Meanwhile, Valencia should be looking forward to a prestigious double-header against Barcelona in La Liga and Chelsea in the Champions League, instead find themselves in full-blown crisis after the sacking of coach Marcelino Garcia Toral.

Marcelino was fired on Wednesday and replaced by the former Barcelona, Real Madrid and Spain midfielder Albert Celades, who faces a tough baptism at the Camp Nou on Saturday.

The sacking of Marcelino, 54, by Valencia’s Singaporean owner Peter Lim has exposed frictions at a club that had been revived by the coach since his appointment in 2017. The two-time former Champions League runners-up are fresh from successive top-four finishes in La Liga and last season beat Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final to lift their first silverware in 11 years.

However, Marcelino, the ex-Sevilla and Villarreal boss, was critical of the club’s transfer policy over the close season, including attempts to sell Spain striker Rodrigo Moreno to Atletico Madrid.

Rodrigo ended up staying, as did Marcelino, for the opening three matches of the campaign.

But after taking four points from a possible nine, including a 2-0 win over Mallorca just before the recent international break, the coach has been ousted as the team prepare for two of their biggest matches of the season.

“I am sure you will do well wherever you go and wherever they let you work,” said captain Dani Parejo in a very pointed Twitter post.

After Saturday’s game, Valencia travel to London to take on Chelsea in their opening match in Group H of the Champions League, in which they will also face Ajax and Lille.

Agence France-Presse

Spanish League fixtures (GMT)

On Saturday: Real Madrid vs Levante (1100), Leganes vs Villarreal (1400), Real Sociedad vs Atletico Madrid (1630), Barcelona vs Valencia (1900)

On Sunday: Eibar vs Espanyol (1000), Alaves vs Sevilla (1200), Celta Vigo vs Granada (1400), Valladolid vs Osasuna (1630), Betis vs Getafe (1900).

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