Eden Hazard scored and set up Karim Benzema for his first of two goals as Real Madrid eased to a 4-1 victory at Alavés 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.
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 Atlético Madrid to four points. Atlético 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 unfavorable 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.
“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 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.”
The win over struggling Alavés 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.
Alavés, 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.
(With inputs from AP).
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