Hazard returns for Real as Barcelona struggle to keep their sparkle

Hazard returns for Real as Barcelona struggle to keep their sparkle

MADRID: Real Madrid could welcome back their priciest Galactico this weekend at home against Celta Vigo, while Barcelona must adjust to life without yet another of the most expensive members of their squad as they entertain Getafe.

Eden Hazard cost Real 100 million euros ($108.4 million) last summer, eclipsing the initial fee paid for Gareth Bale.

So far, Real have not got much for the money they paid Chelsea.

The Belgian started the season with a hamstring problem, then broke a bone in his foot against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League in late November. He has not played since.

He is expected to be on the bench against Celta.

The Galicians climbed out of the relegation places last Saturday with a home win over Sevilla. But Celta’s victory was their only win in six games while Real, on a run of five straight wins, are the hottest team in league.

For Hazard, and for Real, Celta are not the target, nor are mid-table Levante who they face next Saturday.

The date ringed on their calendars will be February 26 when they face Manchester City in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.

After a difficult autumn, Zinedine Zidane has his team purring and the endless questions over Bale’s role are a sideshow he can ignore.

The other team in what is turning into a traditional Spanish two-horse race are looking less comfortable.

Barcelona were top as recently January 25. Now they trail Real by three points.

They also face a traditional also-ran at home this weekend. But Getafe are the surprise of the Spanish season and have won four straight matches to climb to third and can cut the gap to second to four points with a first league victory away to Barcelona.

“Everything is possible,” said Getafe defender Allan Nyom.

Last week, against Real Betis, Lionel Messi assisted all three goals, setting up midfielders Frenkie de Jong and Sergio Busquets and defender Clement Lenglet.

“When he doesn’t score he gives assists,” said Nyom.

Of the players Barcelona have bought to provide creativity and goals alongside Messi, only Antoine Griezmann, who started on Sunday is available. Philippe Coutinho is on loan to Bayern Munich, Luis Suarez is recovering from a knee injury and the club confirmed this week that Ousmane Dembele is out for the season.

Lenglet will be missing too. Seven minutes after scoring his second league goal of the season he was sent off. He also picked up a red when Barcelona won at Getafe in a bad-tempered match in September.

While Barcelona and Real have another week to prepare for their return to the Champions League, Atletico Madrid host Liverpool next Tuesday and Valencia play Atalanta in Milan on Wednesday.

Conveniently they were scheduled to meet this weekend in Valencia and La Liga has brought the game forward to Friday. Their Champions League opponents are both playing league matches on Saturday.

If they want to return to the competition next year, Friday’s meeting could prove crucial. Atletico are clinging onto the fourth Champions League place only on goal difference from Sevilla while Valencia are just two points back in seventh.

Barcelona are making noises about asking for an exemption to buy a striker because of their injury problems.

Real Sociedad’s Willian Jose, a 28-year-old Brazilian who has gone from journeyman to must-have striker in the last month, and Moron, a 26-year-old who has only established himself in the Betis team in the last 18 months, are reportedly top of the list.

They can improve their value by adding to their modest eight league goals each this season on Sunday. Willian’s Real Sociedad make the short trip to Eibar and Betis visit Leganes.