Zinedine Zidane’s side made it 10 goals scored and none conceded for the week with one of their most impressive performances in years
Eden Hazard and Karim Benzema combined to lethal effect as Real Madrid dismantled Eibar 4-0 on Saturday in La Liga, and it is no overstatement to say their season will live or die on the duo’s chemistry.
After a frustrating goalless draw against Real Betis last weekend which stopped Madrid from usurping Barcelona at the top of the table, Zinedine Zidane’s side finally located their shooting boots.
The 6-0 thrashing of Galatasaray in the Champions League was impressive but to follow that up with another four goals at a sodden Ipurua shows real change is happening.
It was raining goals in the first half as Benzema and notably Hazard stepped up their game to a level Eibar simply couldn’t handle.
The win took Madrid top of the table, at least before Barcelona face Celta Vigo later on Saturday.
Comparing this match to Madrid’s 3-0 capitulation at Eibar last season under Santiago Solari less than a year ago will give Los Blancos supporters a lot of hope.
This was arguably Madrid’s best league performance since the 2016-17 double-winning season with Zidane at the helm.
And, if the Galatasaray romp in midweek was Madrid’s ‘breakthrough’ moment of the season, this match was Hazard’s.
The Belgian sliced through Eibar defenders like a hot knife through butter, with Pablo de Blasis cutting him down in the box for a penalty.
Madrid’s skipper Sergio Ramos converted it with typical cool, sending Marko Dmitrovic the wrong way.
That was Madrid’s second goal, with the red-hot Benzema already on the scoresheet. The Frenchman hit a brace, taking him to nine for the season in La Liga, making him the top scorer.
Benzema’s first goal was fired home from a tight angle and the second followed from the penalty spot after Lucas Vazquez was felled.
Madrid defender Dani Carvajal hailed Hazard after the game.
“It’s clear that coming to a new league, having new team-mates is not easy. I think he had a fantastic game, we’re seeing the best version of him and he’s giving us a lot,” explained Carvajal.
Hazard’s first-half performance in particular was masterful, harrying the defence and showing the ability that convinced Madrid president Florentino Perez to fork out €100 million (£86m/$110m)to Chelsea in the summer.
An early combination with Benzema forecast promise, although Dmitrovic kept out the French forward’s effort.
Hazard was brought down by Eibar’s goalkeeper when clean through, outside the area, but the refereeing team decided it wasn’t clear enough to act with VAR. On another day Dmitrovic would have walked and the game opened up further for Madrid.
There have been improvements in other areas, too. Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois made it over 500 minutes unbeaten and counting, a far cry from the weak figure on show between the sticks at the start of the campaign.
Madrid’s defence wasn’t overly troubled by Eibar because the superb Fede Valverde, who scored the fourth, and Luka Modric, who set up the Uruguayan, didn’t stop running.
Benzema has been performing at such a high level for a year that this display wasn’t a surprise, but his brace took him to 157 league goals for Madrid, one more than the legendary Ferenc Puskas.
The 31-year-old is in the form of his career and, if he and Hazard can keep developing this connection, it will be the key to Madrid’s season.