Hazard shines for Madrid without Zidane, En-Nesyri scores hat-trick

Hazard grazed a long pass to redirect the ball to Benzema, who doubled the lead for Madrid in the 41st after Casemiro had headed in the 15th-minute opener.

Eden Hazard of Real Madrid celebrates after scoring a goal.   -  GETTY IMAGES

Eden Hazard scored and set up Karim Benzema for his first of two goals as Real Madrid eased to a 4-1 victory at Alaves in the Spanish league on Saturday, ending a winless run in a match that coach Zinedine Zidane missed after he contracted the coronavirus.

Hazard grazed a long pass to redirect the ball to Benzema, who doubled the lead for Madrid in the 41st after Casemiro had headed in the 15th-minute opener.

Belgium forward Hazard scored just his third goal of the season in first-half injury time to build a 3-0 lead at the break. Toni Kroos had recovered possession in midfield and set up Hazard’s run behind a disordered defensive line.

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Joselu Mato pulled one back for Alavés on the hour-mark.

Benzema made it a brace in the 70th after Luka Modric played him clear on the break. The French striker cut back inside the last defender before firing in his 10th goal in the league this campaign.

Second-place Madrid reduced the gap to leader Atletico Madrid to four points. Atletico has two games in hand, starting with its home match against Valencia on Sunday.

The promising performance by Hazard comes amid growing impatience shown by Madrid’s fans, and some unfavourable comparisons in the Spanish sports media to former star Gareth Bale, who was also injury prone. Hampered by injuries, the 30-year-old Hazard has not lived up to the club-record 100 million euros ($113 million) fee plus add-ons two seasons ago.

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“I think at Chelsea he was the player he was, and now he has to be a different one here,” Benzema said about Hazard. “We need Hazard to be at his best.”

Madrid assistant coach David Bettoni was on the touchline at Mendizorroza Stadium after Madrid made public on Friday that Zidane had tested positive for COVID-19. Bettoni said on Friday that Zidane was “feeling fine.”

Bettoni said he consulted Zidane by telephone late in the match to make substitutions, but added his boss “trusts his players and trusts me.”

Bettoni has high expectations of Hazard.

“I think that little by little Eden will recover his top form,” Bettoni said. “He is a creative player, a spontaneous player, who needs the confidence to take on players one-on-one, but it is also true that he has had many injuries. We have to be patient, even though patience is not plentiful in football.”

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The win over struggling Alaves came after Madrid drew 0-0 at Osasuna in the league, lost to Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey semifinals, and was dumped from the Copa del Rey in a 2-1 loss at third-tier Alcoyano, which scored the winner with 10 men.

Alaves, which was celebrating the 100th anniversary of its foundation, was left one point above the relegation zone in a third consecutive loss under new coach Abelardo Fernández.

-Eye On The Prize-

Youssef En-Nesyri scored a hat-trick to lead Sevilla to a 3-0 win over Cadiz, lifting the Andalusian side past Barcelona and into third place.

En-Nesyri has 12 goals in 19 rounds and leads the league scoring charts. The Morocco striker also scored a treble two weeks ago. He has another four goals this season in the Champions League, where Sevilla plays Borussia Dortmund in the round of 16 next month.

En-Nesyri opened the scoring in the 35th after Jesus “Suso” Fernandez’s shot hit the post and fell for him to finish off. His second and third goals were from headers in the 39th and 62nd.

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On his second goal, En-Nesyri said that he could only see from one eye after taking a knock in the other one. But that did not stop him from meeting Suso’s free-kick sent near the penalty spot for the striker to head through the crowded area and into the net.

“I knew the set piece was for me and I had to execute it, so I scored the goal with one eye open,” En-Nesyri said.

After its sixth win in nine rounds, Sevilla moved two points ahead of Barcelona, which visits Elche on Sunday.

-Joaquin's Comeback-

At age 39, Joaquin Sanchez proved he can still turn games around for Real Betis. He came on in the 78th and set up one goal before scoring a stoppage-time equaliser in a 2-2 draw with Sociedad.

Coach Imanol Alguacil slung his coat into the dugout after seeing his team squander a two-goal lead and an overall dominant performance because of Betis' inspired final push led Joaquín.

Sociedad striker Aleksander Isak scored once and set up Mikel Oyarzabal to make it 2-0 in the 57th.

But Joaquin curled in a cross for Sergio Canales to head home in the 85th minute. The veteran forward clinched the draw two minutes into injury time when fellow substitute Cristian Tello sped past his marker and found Joaquin in the area.

“That is what Joaquin does, he changes everything. He and Tello and the others that came off the bench gave us life,” said Canales, who got his seventh league goal of the season.

Sociedad will have a chance to avenge the loss on Tuesday when it visits Betis in their round-of-16 clash in the Copa del Rey.

Also, fifth-place Villarreal pulled level with Barcelona on points after a 0-0 draw with Huesca. Barcelona is ahead of Villarreal on goal difference.

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