PARIS: Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane believes Eden Hazard will make a huge difference for his side as the Belgian prepares to start for the first time this season in Wednesday’s Champions League clash with Paris St Germain.
Hazard was signed for €100 million from Chelsea in the summer as the spearhead of a new-look Real, but a thigh injury prevented him from making his first appearance until last weekend.
After coming off the bench in a 3-2 win over Levante in La Liga, the 28-year-old looks likely to play a key role in the French capital at a venue he knows well from the early years of his career at Lille.
“He knows where he is, we are an ambitious club. We know we have to play well all the time and he has a strong enough character to deal with that,” said Zidane on Tuesday.
“He is going to be an important player for Real Madrid and he is going to have a great future.”
After winning the Champions League three years running in Zidane’s first spell as coach at the Santiago Bernabeu, Real are now eager to make amends for their defeat at the hands of Ajax in the last 16 last season.
Both sides are expected to qualify from Group A, which also contains Turkish champions Galatasaray and the Belgian former European Cup runners-up, Club Brugge.
Wednesday’s game will nevertheless provide an indication of where these two clubs currently stand, even if there are key absences in both ranks.
Sergio Ramos and Nacho are both suspended and Marcelo is injured, leaving Zidane without a trio of defenders. Ballon d’Or winner Luka Modric has a groin injury.
“A lot is expected of both teams but it is just the start of the season. We will definitely improve and we have to, in every area. It is the same for Paris,” added Zidane.
No Neymar, Mbappe, Cavani
PSG discovered on Tuesday that Neymar’s European ban has been reduced from three games to two, but he will still be missing here.
Kylian Mbappe is injured while Edinson Cavani is not fit and PSG are also missing two rightbacks in Thilo Kehrer and Colin Dagba.
“We are calm. We are missing players but it is the same for Real,” said PSG coach Thomas Tuchel.
“It is a real shame but I have confidence in my players. I am convinced we will have a good team on the field and will cause Real problems.”
Tuchel, who will choose between the on-loan Mauro Icardi and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting as his central striker, has refused to set an objective for his team as PSG seek to improve on three consecutive exits in the last 16.
He is also wary of the threat posed by Real striker Karim Benzema, scorer of a brace in Saturday’s win against Levante.
“Benzema is one of the most underrated players in the world,” said the German of the ex-France forward, who moved to Madrid from Lyon a decade ago.
“It seems like he has played as centre forward for Real for 25 years now! We are not afraid of him but he is world class.”