Mens Team

De Bruyne v Hazard: Battle of the Belgians

De Bruyne v Hazard: Battle of the Belgians
It was a tale of two Belgians when Manchester City recorded a famous victory over Real Madrid in February.

Kevin De Bruyne delivered a masterclass at the Santiago Bernabeu, whilst the injured Eden Hazard was forced to watch on as his international colleague set up Gabriel Jesus’ equaliser before netting the winning goal from the penalty spot.

Beset by injury problems which have restricted him to just 21 appearances, Madrid’s No.7 has endured a difficult first season in the Spanish capital.

“We have won the title collectively this year, considering it has certainly been the worst of my career individually,” he said after Los Blancos sealed their La Liga triumph.

It is a stark contrast to De Bruyne.

Statistically speaking, he has enjoyed his finest season in a City shirt, scoring 15 times and providing 23 assists in all competitions.

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Now, he is aiming to garnish a stellar campaign with the biggest prize in club football, whilst Hazard will be hoping he can rescue what has been a frustrating season after making six appearances since football resumed.

It remains to be seen whether the former Chelsea man will be involved at the Etihad Stadium on Friday, but he, like De Bruyne is a match-winner and the pair could have a big say in settling the tie.

WATCH: First-leg highlights: Real Madrid 1-2 City

Roberto Martinez understands that better than most.

The Belgian boss tweaked his system to get the best out of his star playmakers after predecessor Marc Wilmots had struggled to do so. Martinez deployed De Bruyne in a more traditional central midfield role, whilst Hazard operated out wide to ensure they exerted influence in different areas of the pitch.

“Kevin is a modern playmaker,” the Spaniard said in April.

“All the playmakers we know in the past needed to slow down the game before restarting. What makes Kevin unique is that he gets the ball going faster, and sees the pass during the action. It gives you a tempo that we are not used to. No player controls space like him. He can execute a pass with a precision and speed that few players can achieve.”

His praise was equally effusive for Hazard, and Martinez is certain he will bounce back from this season’s setbacks to be a success at the Bernabeu.

“Eden showed [his abilities] in the World Cup,” he added. “Eden’s showed that he is ready to take on the toughest challenges you can have in football. Going to Real Madrid was that kind of challenge, very unique in terms of the pressure placed on a player.

“Now, after the injury he suffered, I’m sure we will see the best Eden Hazard at Real Madrid.”

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Hazard will hope that rings true, having admitted his injury disrupted campaign means he cannot yet be considered a Galactico.  A dual threat in terms of goals and assists, the 29-year-old recently revealed it is the latter he feels is most important to his game.

“Some players now just think about scoring goals,” he told UEFA ahead of the second leg of our last 16 tie.

“And me? I'm more the kind of player who can create something. That's why I like to say that I'm more of an assisting guy than a scoring machine.”

De Bruyne is the assist machine, his equalling of Thierry Henry’s record of 20 in a single Premier League campaign underlined that this season. The Arsenal legend worked with City’s No.17 during his time as Belgium assistant manager and says his talent is unmatched.

“He's an amazing player,” said Henry. “It's just stupid what we are witnessing and I hope people in football do realise that the boy is just not normal.

"His brain is somewhere else, it's just ridiculous and I came across him and worked with him and he's one of those guys you just have to let play because if you start to understand and comprehend what he's doing, you're going to have a headache.

“He's on another planet.”

De Bruyne and Hazard’s list of admirers is long and illustrious. The former was labelled the best midfielder in the world by Rio Ferdinand after his first leg performance, whilst Zidane has previously put Hazard in a similar bracket to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Madrid boss will hope his winger can have the kind of impact De Bruyne had in the first leg on Friday, whilst Pep Guardiola will want his playmaker to dominate proceedings again.

Two world class operators and two of the best Belgians of all time, but only one will prevail at the Etihad on Friday.

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