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Eden Hazard is ready to torment his former club from the bench tonight (8pm) after a dress rehearsal cameo against Real Betis on Saturday. Hazard’s Real Madrid welcome Chelsea to Valdebebas for the first leg of their Champions League semi-final clash.
And after missing 22 games through injury this season, Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zindane believes the Belgium international is as good as new and ready to “push on” through the latter parts of the season.
“I don’t see Eden having any doubts,” he said. “He looked very good on the field the other day. That was the important thing, not feeling any of his old problems.
“Now he is good, and now to push on. We are happy to have him with us, he will bring a lot to the team.”
Team-mate Raphael Varane revealed that from the moment two teams were pulled out of the hat in the same half of the draw at the quarter-final stage, Hazard had all the incentive he needed to shrug off finally the muscle injury problems that have dogged him since his £130m move to the Bernabeu.
“I have spoken with him, he is very motivated,” the Madrid defender said.
“Playing a Champions semi-final encourages anyone, but if you play against your old club it is one more motivation.
“He knows the club and the team we face very well. We know his qualities and the desire he has to help the team.”
Toni Kroos is also fit after missing out on the weekend’s goalless draw but Ferland Mendy misses out with a calf strain.
Real Madrid vs Chelsea Champions League semi-final first leg preview
Just 12 days ago they were allies; tonight they go head-to-head. Old money is drawn against new money in a competition which remains a bit too inclusive for the refined tastes of one of them at least.
But for 180 minutes spread over two absorbing legs, it will be about what it always needs to be about – the football.
And rather than putting on airs and graces, Thomas Tuchel’s message to his Chelsea players is a simple one.
“We need to be ourselves,” he said. “The strategy once you arrive, the higher you get the more you rely on yourself, rely on your own strengths and do the things which make you comfortable and which are proven which can work.
“We have these things as a team, this is what we try to do at the best level, there’s no other approach for a match like this.
“Hopefully we don’t overthink it, hopefully we don’t overdo it, the challenge is to be ourselves, to be the best version of ourselves for 90 or 94 minutes.”
Right now, thanks to their president Florentino Perez, Madrid is anything but the best version of themselves.
Nevertheless, they remain 13-time champions of what for now remains the continent’s elite competition and the name which still sends a shiver up the spine of anybody who draws them.
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“Yes, well I wouldn’t really want to play against us,” Christian Pulisic counters. “I don’t think it is an easy game against us, ever. That’s the status everyone wants to have.
“Real Madrid have their history and that’s something you can’t deny. They are a great team and it is not going to be an easy challenge at all.
“It is about going there and respecting them but also believing in what we stand for and what we can do. It is going to be a really good match up between two big teams across Europe.”
Chelsea train ahead of Real Madrid test
By contrast, for all of Roman Abramovich’s roubles, Chelsea have just the one Champions League success in 2012.
But Tuchel is eager that his players should not be blinded by the contrast in the honours sheet. This clash is no different, he insists, than some of the challenges more readily available in the Premier League.
Chelsea are already playing against ‘Super League’-level opponents domestically 10 times a season.
“I strongly believe that sometimes circumstances and playing against a big experienced team and a huge club in Europe like Real Madrid, maybe the next step is just to keep the level and not to over-expect from us to take the next step,” Tuchel said.
“I think we showed against Tottenham, against Liverpool, in the knockouts against Porto and Atletico, that we are capable of consistently producing high-level football in all questions that are asked on the pitch, in offensive and defensive terms and in transition.
“The challenge is for me to produce it again and to keep the level. This is more the question than adding another step.”
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