Eden Hazard

El Clasico Messi
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Storylines aplenty as El Clasico looms in Catalonia

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Wednesday is going to be a sneaky good day of world football.

There are three League Cup quarterfinals, a Club World Cup semi between Liverpool and Monterrey, and two rivals in Spain meeting in a rescheduled match.

Underplayed that last one, didn’t we?

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Barcelona and Real Madrid are set for a 2 p.m. ET Wednesday El Clasico at the Camp Nou in Catalonia, where the jailing of nine Catalan separatists caused an initial postponement.

The atmosphere outside the stadium will be monitored closely, as La Liga initially wanted the match switched to Madrid.

The match was originally scheduled for Oct. 26, and La Liga officials were so angry at the move of a marquee television match to midweek that they appealed to the courts.

The stakes are always high for El Clasico, and Barca’s controversial draw with Real Sociedad could see the two-time reigning champions enter the match behind Real Madrid.

The Blaugranas drew 2-2 after VAR did not decide to review a late shirt pull of Gerard Pique in the box, giving Barca 36 points. Real Madrid could climb to 38 points with a win away to Valencia at 3 p.m. ET Sunday.

An injured Eden Hazard made headlines Saturday when video emerged of his telling a Chelsea fan that he’ll return to Stamford Bridge once he’s done at Real.

Hazard looks unlikely to be ready for Wednesday, but Real’s strength this season has been its defense. Only Atletico Madrid has allowed fewer than Real’s 11 conceded goals (and the remarkable Atleti has played two more matches).

Barca’s defense has been far less impressive, allowing 20 goals. That’s not great, but 43 goals scored is a pretty great figure.

The leader? No surprise here, as Lionel Messi has a league-best 12 goals and his six assists are tied with Valencia’s Rodrigo for the top mark. That’s despite missing five matches and only going 45 minutes in two others.

That’s nuts, and the 32-year-old Ballon d’Or winner will enter the match as the all-time El Clasico goal scorer (26). If he nabs a hat trick, he’ll pass Ferenc Puskas and Paulino Alcantara for the most in El Clasico history.

Hazard has muscle tear, could miss El Clasico

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MADRID — Real Madrid midfielder Eden Hazard has a more serious right-leg injury than the bruise that was first diagnosed, and it could rule him out of El Clasico against Barcelona on Dec. 18.

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Madrid said Thursday that new tests found a micro-tear of a muscle that had gone undetected since the injury occurred on Nov. 26 in a 2-2 draw with Paris Saint-Germain.

Hazard joined Madrid from Chelsea this year on a club-record transfer of $113 million, plus add-ons. He missed the first three games of the season after injuring a thigh muscle in the preseason.

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Madrid said it will also likely be without left back Marcelo for Saturday’s home game against Espanyol because of a muscle injury.

Madrid is in second place in the Spanish league behind Barcelona on goal difference.

Eden Hazard injury not as significant as Real Madrid feared

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Zinedine Zidane and the rest of the Real Madrid staff believed they may have lost winger Eden Hazard for an extended period of time after the Belgian limped off the pitch in the 69th minute of the 2-2 Champions League draw with Paris Saint-Germain.

Thankfully, their fears were quelled after news was released that tests showed Hazard suffered just an ankle bruise and will miss only 10 days of action.

Zidane said after the match that Hazard’s injury “worries me” and that “I hope it is minor.”

Madrid confirmed Wednesday morning that Hazard’s injury was not serious, officially announcing he had suffered an “external bruise on his right leg.” No official timetable was given for his return, but journalists in Spain speculated he would miss about a week and a half. Most importantly, Hazard will likely be fit for the December 18 El Clasico game against Barcelona, only likely to miss a pair of La Liga matches against Alaves and Espanyol plus a meaningless Champions League clash with Club Brugge.

The injury occurred in a clash with international teammate Thomas Meunier.

Injuries have slightly stunted the start of Hazard’s Real Madrid career, as he missed time with a hamstring problem at the start of the season, and he has scored just a single goal in 13 appearances across all competitions. Still, the Belgian has been one of the best players on the squad this season despite the low goal tally, ramping up his play after a slow start.

Eden Hazard on 2019 Ballon d’Or: ‘Mane, Salah or Van Dijk deserve it’

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The 2019 Ballon d’Or should not be awarded to five-time winners Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, but to either Liverpool’s Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah or Virgil Van Dijk, according to Real Madrid’s Eden Hazard.

The former Chelsea star – and shortlist candidate for the award itself – stressed that each Reds player did enough last season to win the prestigious award. The trio have been nominated for the award following Liverpool’s Champions League title and second place Premier League league finish last season.

To the Le Parisien: 

I would give it to a Liverpool player. Mane, Salah or Van Djik deserve it. If Sadio had won AFCON with Senegal, there would have been no debate. It would be beautiful if he won it. Or Momo [Salah], who is one of my friends. It would be a good thing for both African and English football.

To the same tune, Jurgen Klopp weighed in on which nominee from a 30-man shortlist deserves the award the most. And to no surprise, the 52-year-old manager is set on the notion that it is his undoubtable starting defender who deserves the golden ball, following a spectacular 2018/2019 campaign.

If you give the Ballon d’Or to the best player of this generation then you should give it always to Lionel Messi. That’s how it is. But if you give it to the best player of last season, then it was Virgil van Dijk.

I don’t know exactly how it will work but that is how I see it. The best player of all? That’s Lionel. Best player of last season? That’s Virgil. We will see.

The aforementioned trio aren’t the only Liverpool players on the ballot, however. Alisson, Georginio Wijnaldum and Roberto Firmino also made the list, which features defending champions Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne, Riyad Mahrez and Bernardo Silva.

A winner will be announced in Paris on December 2.

Euro qualifying: Hazard stars for Belgium, Wales grabs big win

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The early slate of Euro 2020 qualifiers on Saturday saw a few teams assure themselves of a playoff position as the qualifying cycle nears a close.

Wales was assured of at least a playoff spot after Sweden topped Romania yesterday, but they continued a push towards automatic qualification by topping Azerbaijan 2-0. Wigan striker Kieffer Moore opened the scoring 10 minutes in as Harry Wilson nearly bagged a stunning strike from outside the box, but his curler struck the underside of the bar, then the inside of the post, and came out. Moore was there to head home the rebound and Wales had the lead. They doubled that lead before halftime as Bournemouth’s Wilson would get his goal, and Wales saw out the rest of the match to move one point back of Hungary in an automatic qualifying position.

Belgium has already qualified for the finals, but Roberto Martinez’s side continued its good form with a romping 4-1 win over Russia behind a brace from Eden Hazard. Romelu Lukaku also scored in the match, while Thorgan Hazard bagged a goal as well. The win assured Belgium of the top spot in Group I, moving six points ahead of their opponents.

Scotland picked up a gutty road win at Cyprus 2-1 behind John McGinn‘s 53rd minute winner, jumping into third place in Group I, although they have already secured a playoff position thanks to their Nations League results. Ryan Christie and Georgios Efrem had cancelled each other out before Aston Villa’s McGinn poked home Greg Taylor’s cross from near the penalty area to put the visitors ahead for good in Nicosia.

Slovenia needs a miraculous comeback to qualify for the finals, but they stayed alive and in contention with a 1-0 win at Latvia behind an Igors Tarasovs own-goal in the 53rd minute. The victory pushed Slovenia to 14 points, two back of second-placed Austria in Group G and five behind Poland, but the top two teams in the group still have yet to play today and could both secure qualification wins.

Elsewhere, in a result with little effect on the qualification process, Kazakhstan topped San Marino 3-1 in a matchup of two eliminated teams.