Carlo Ancelotti says Eden Hazard is in his Real Madrid plans for next season as the Belgium star shows signs of finding form at last.

Hazard scored an extra-time winner to send Madrid into the Copa del Rey quarter-finals at Elche's expense this week, having assisted Marco Asensio in the 3-1 win at Alcoyano in his previous appearance.

It means the 31-year-old has been involved in as many goals in his past two games as he was in his previous 17, suggesting he is starting to find his feet at last in LaLiga.

Hazard has reportedly already rejected approaches to leave this month, including from Newcastle United, and Ancelotti seems keen to keep him for the longer term.

"Yes, he's in the planning for next season," the Madrid coach said ahead of Sunday's league game with Elche.

Asked if it might be a good day for Hazard to be in the starting line-up, Ancelotti replied: "Yes, it's a good day. Hopefully, it will be a good day."

 

Isco also got on the scoresheet against Elche to underline his value as another option for Ancelotti, while the Italian says Gareth Bale, who has not played for the club since August, is also close to a return.

"Isco doesn't have injuries, but Bale has been out for longer than Hazard. Each one is a different case," he said.

"Gareth is getting back to having a good physical condition, he's improving, he's starting to train every day with the team."

Dani Ceballos has also returned to the Madrid set-up after a long injury absence, playing three times this month, and Ancelotti hopes he will prove a useful player for the rest of the campaign.

"He's starting to be well, to improve his physical condition," he said. "I like him on a personal level, for his character, for his lack of fear in playing games and making plays.

"He'll certainly have an important role in the second part of the season."

Madrid head into the weekend with a four-point lead over Sevilla at the top of the table, while champions Atletico Madrid are 13 points adrift in fourth and Barcelona down in sixth.

Ancelotti accepts it is a surprise to see their biggest rivals struggling.

"Of course, we can talk about them, what two great teams, two great clubs are doing, and of course we're surprised they're having more difficulties than normal," he said.

"They're still both great rivals, with sufficient quality to get out of any complicated situation."

Carlo Ancelotti acknowledged Eden Hazard and Isco might have been frustrated by their restricted roles for Real Madrid but now hopes to rely on both moving forward. 

Hazard and Isco have started just 10 Madrid games between them in all competitions this season and were again on the bench for Thursday's Copa del Rey clash at Elche. 

Isco was introduced late in normal time with the game goalless, before Hazard came on as the tie headed into extra time. 

The pair did not have an immediate impact, as Marcelo was sent off and Gonzalo Verdu netted a deflected opener for Elche, but ultimately turned the match on its head. 

Isco touched in an equaliser before Hazard's first goal of the season sent Madrid through. 

A report last week claimed Madrid had accepted a bid from Newcastle United for Hazard, but it added the player rejected the move. He has now had two goal involvements in as many appearances – as many as in his previous 17. 

A delighted Ancelotti appears convinced, saying of the winger and Isco: "I knew that changes could give a boost to the team and they have given it. 

 

"[Hazard] and Isco have won the match. It has a meaning. It may be that they deserve to play more, but the past is the past and you have to look forward. 

"I know that I can count on them and on a squad that has everything, an extraordinary character and that fights against adversity and never gives up. 

"I'm very happy. I think it's the game that's given me the most happiness." 

Both men might expect to feature again in the quarter-finals of the Copa in a fortnight, when Madrid will be without a host of South American stars due to a short international break outside of a FIFA window. 

"Let's see if those who make the calendars wake up. It's nonsense," Ancelotti said of the issue. "It is inevitable, but it has to be changed. We have to make them fairer for everyone." 

Madrid are playing in the last eight for the fifth time in six seasons, although they have not won the trophy since 2013-14. Only twice this century have the Blancos lifted the Copa. 

Carlo Ancelotti has reaffirmed there is no problem with Eden Hazard, who is finding Real Madrid game time hard to come by.

Hazard was an unused substitute in both of Madrid's Supercopa de Espana matches last week in Saudi Araba, as Los Blancos went on to win their first trophy of Ancelotti's second spell in charge.

The former Chelsea star, who turned 31 earlier in January, has endured an injury hit time at Santiago Bernabeu since his big-money move in 2019.

While he has in the main avoided injuries so far this season, Hazard has only made eight starts across all competitions, with his game time totalling 724 minutes.

Hazard has only completed a game on one occasion this season, having been subbed off in his other seven starts, and he has only assisted on two occasions from 27 chances created, failing to score himself.

Per 90 minutes played, Hazard has had 66 touches, with eight in the opposition area.

Vinicius Jr, who has excelled on the left flank – Hazard's preferred position – under Ancelotti, averages nine touches in the area per 90 minutes played, and he has featured 28 times this season in total.

The Brazil international creates 2.2 chances per 90 minutes and he has been directly involved in 22 goals (15 goals, seven assists), second only to Karim Benzema in Madrid's squad (33 – 24 goals, nine assists).

With such quality competition, Ancelotti explained it is natural for players to miss out, but insisted there is no issue between himself and Hazard.

"It is true that the two have had many setbacks due to injuries," Ancelotti told a news conference when asked about Hazard and Gareth Bale, who has played just 193 minutes across three appearances in 2021-22.

"Hazard has been doing well from a physical point of view for a month and a half. I don't have to advise Hazard, he has the character and the experience to choose the best for him.

 

"The quality of the two could have helped us more, but it's only been the first part of the season. Hopefully the second half can be better.

"Nothing strange has happened between us, simply that there is competition and the coach, which is me, has to choose the best for each game. I try to be fair and choose the best. Sometimes you are very good and you don't play. I'm also talking about Nacho, [Dani] Ceballos, Isco, [Luka] Jovic.

"Nothing has happened, only that there is competition in the team and I have to choose the best in each game. This affects many players, I can't deny it. Nothing has happened, he is training and waiting for the coach's call. I think he will be ready when it arrives."

Asked if Hazard might be moved out this month, Ancelotti said: "At the moment he is still a Madrid player, he is training, focused... We have nothing else to think about."

While Hazard did travel to Saudi Arabia for the Supercopa tournament, Bale instead remained in Madrid to work on his fitness, and Ancelotti said the Wales forward is available for Thursday's Copa del Rey meeting with Elche.

"He will be in the squad and all those who are have the chance to play from the beginning or as a sub. It can also happen that they don't play," the Italian added.

Thibaut Courtois will not be available due to a minor injury.

Carlo Ancelotti believes Eden Hazard will recover his best form soon after Real Madrid battled past Alcoyano in the Copa del Rey.

Hazard started just his ninth game of 2021-22 in Wednesday's 3-1 victory against the third-tier outfit, who famously beat Madrid in this competition a year ago.

Dani Vega's excellent run and finish cancelled out Eder Militao's opener for Madrid, who were without several first-team regulars including Thibaut Courtois, David Alaba, Dani Carvajal, Luka Modric and Karim Benzema.

Substitutes Marco Asensio and Isco eventually secured a hard-fought win, the former scoring via a deflected effort following Hazard's lay-off before Isco diverted the ball in off goalkeeper Jose Juan.

Hazard, Rodrygo and Mariano Diaz struggled to combine effectively in the Madrid attack, although the Belgium international ended the match with four chances created, at least twice as many as any other player.

Ancelotti felt the game was ill-suited to creative players but remains convinced Hazard can become a key player for Los Blancos despite an underwhelming two and a half years in Spain.

"Players of quality suffered more than the others," Ancelotti said. "He tried, then as a number nine, like Isco, who scored when he came on, and I'm happy for him.

"Hazard, Rodrygo and these players with more quality suffered more than others.

"He needs to have more confidence in one-v-ones, dribbling, shooting, because he has the quality to do that.

"His physical condition is better than a few months ago, and hopefully we'll see him back at his best level soon."

Ancelotti praised his players for surviving a battle at El Collao against a side who eliminated LaLiga strugglers Levante on penalties in the last round after a 3-3 draw.

"We played the game we had to," he said.

"Of course, we suffered [at 1-1]. They levelled the game through a really good individual action, one of quality.

"Afterwards, we didn't lose our heads and we kept playing the game. We couldn't play another game – this is the one we'd prepared.

"We finished them today. It's not our type of game because delivering quality in these types of games isn't possible.

"We stood up to a team who usually play with quality and today they put that aside and they fought. It's what they had to do. I repeat: if you don't fight here, you lose, like we did last year."

Carlo Ancelotti has been pleased with LaLiga leaders Real Madrid's performances up to the halfway point of the campaign but warned there is a long way to go in the title race.

Karim Benzema's first-half double was enough to see Madrid past Athletic Bilbao 2-1 on Wednesday, the striker becoming just the fourth player – excluding Lionel Messi (nine times) and Cristiano Ronaldo (seven) – to hit 30-plus LaLiga goals in a calendar year.

Toni Kroos assisted the first of Benzema's seven-minute brace, the Germany international's 77th assist in all competitions for Los Blancos since signing in the 2014-15 campaign – no Madrid player has managed more in that period.

Ancelotti's side, who were without the likes of David Alaba and Isco due to COVID-19, managed to hang on for victory to move eight points clear of second-placed Sevilla heading into 2022.

The Italian boss, who is undefeated in six top-flight meetings with Marcelino, told reporters of his pride in the performance of his rotated side: "The victory means a lot to us, because of the COVID casualties, because of the complete game that has come out with a team that was not used to playing together. 

"We must highlight this, the game of Nacho, Lucas [Vazquez], [Eduardo] Camavinga, [Eden] Hazard, [Federico] Valverde ... They all had a great game. 

"Most of the time it was a game of quality and great commitment, that's the most important thing for me, almost like the three points, which is what always counts."

Asked about his side's lead and title credentials, Ancelotti responded: "We have done very well, but the balance is at the end of the season. So far, so good. 

"We will see if something can be won, that is the requirement of this club. But now we have a week off, we deserve it."

 

San Mames has been a happy hunting ground for Madrid, who are without defeat in seven league games in Bilbao – their best ever unbeaten streak there.

The home crowd greeted Benzema's late removal with rapturous applause and Ancelotti hailed his forward's performance alongside the work rate of Eden Hazard and Vinicius Junior.

Ancelotti added on Benzema's reception: "The ovation to Karim was fantastic, this stadium has a spectacular atmosphere, I really like it. Karim has deserved it.

"They [Hazard and Vinicius] understand very well what the team has to do, in defence and attack, they did it well. 

"They were committed and put quality, especially at the beginning. The difference is defending, we know this team can attack and score, we have very good individuals. So far, we are doing well."

Indeed, Madrid have defended well, conceding just one goal across December despite facing Athletic twice, Inter, Real Sociedad and Atletico Madrid.

Ancelotti was also buoyed on by the continued return of Hazard, whose career with the LaLiga giants has been hampered by injuries and fitness issues so far.

The Madrid head coach said on Hazard: "Yes, it works for the team, it is true that he had doubts about his physical appearance, but he did well, in the second half he fought, he tried things. He's back, I agree."

Madrid next face Getafe on January 2 after the mid-season break and will be boosted by the return of Rodrygo, who confirmed he had tested negative for coronavirus after initially returning a positive test last Thursday.

Kieran Trippier has long been linked with a move back to England.

The 31-year-old full back has plied his trade in Spain for the past two-and-a-half years.

Trippier spent time with Manchester City, Burnley and Tottenham before joining Atletico Madrid, but seems set for a Premier League return next month.

 

TOP STORY – ATLETICO TO PERMIT TRIPPIER MOVE

Atleti are set to allow England international Trippier to join Newcastle United in January according to the Daily Mail.

The report claims that Atleti are hoping for £15million (€18m) from cashed-up Newcastle, who need reinforcements in their bid to avoid relegation.

Atleti will let the deal progress if they can find a suitable replacement for the defender during January.

ROUND-UP

- Tuttosport claims Juventus will switch their attention to signing an attacking player in January to boost their Champions League qualification hopes, with Manchester United pair Edinson Cavani and Anthony Martial, Paris Saint-Germain's Mauro Icardi and Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in their sights.

- AS reports that Eden Hazard does not want to leave Real Madrid in the January transfer window, despite struggling for impact with Los Blancos.

Chelsea are set to make a move for Wolverhampton's Ruben Neves according to TodoFichajes. Thomas Tuchel wants to reinforce the midfield with Saul Niguez having underwhelmed since joining in August.

Real Madrid are plotting a move to sign Internazionale's Netherlands international Denzel Dumfries reports Defensa Central.

- Veteran Brazilian midfielder Fernandinho is set to extend his stay with Manchester City, scuppering interest from Atletico Mineiro, reports Sport Witness.

Carlo Ancelotti insisted nobody should be blamed after Real Madrid's disappointing 0-0 draw at home to struggling Cadiz, applauding the performance even if the outcome was not as expected.

Madrid had been hoping to extend their winning run to eight league matches but failed to convert their superiority into goals at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday.

Los Blancos' 36 shots amounted to 10 more than any other team have had in a single LaLiga match this season and the most since Madrid themselves had 37 attempts against Levante in April 2013.

Those shots equated to 2.8 expected goals (xG), meaning it was only the fourth time in the past decade that Madrid have failed to score in a LaLiga game despite registering at least 2.8 xG.

Cadiz defended valiantly, their 14 blocks being the most any team has recorded in a game since Opta began collecting this data (2005-06), somehow managing to leave the Santiago Bernabeu with at least a point for the second season in a row.

 

Yet, as frustrating as it would have been for his team to fail to beat 19th-placed Cadiz, Ancelotti looked on the bright side.

Speaking to Movistar, Ancelotti said: "I think we've tried in every way, but it has not turned out well.

"It didn't work, but we tried, and therefore I don't have to blame [anyone]. There are many positive things, the only thing that wasn't positive was not having won the three points, but this is football.

"There are times you don't deserve it and you win, and others you deserve it and you don't win. They have played us with a set-up that always challenges us, but that's the way it is.

"In the first half what we didn't do well was breaking their back line, the intensity wasn't very high. The second half was different, we created a lot of opportunities.

"The ball didn't go in, but, personally, I'm happy. We tried, I don't know what more we could do. We could have had more quality in the final metres, but I am not going to ask my team for more."

 

Numerous Madrid players caught the eye but one of the most notable – even if he was not necessarily the standout star – was Eden Hazard.

The Belgian has been a massive disappointment since joining Madrid from Chelsea, with injuries playing a major role in disrupting him, but he looked bright at times on what was his first LaLiga start since September.

Hazard had three shots, his match-high 0.77 xG showing he was a threat, while he also played five key passes, the second most he has tallied in a league game for Madrid.

Ancelotti added: "It was difficult for him to get into the game, but in the second half he did very well with better combinations with the forwards.

"It is clear that Hazard can be one more weapon for us in the second half of the season."

 

Carlo Ancelotti says Barcelona "are not a direct rival" for Real Madrid at the moment, with the Blaugrana enduring a difficult season.

Los Blancos are eight points clear at the top of the table, having lost just once in La Liga this season against Espanyol on October 3.

Barca, meanwhile, are 18 points adrift of the leaders in eighth place and have won only six LaLiga games so far this term.

Madrid head coach Ancelotti feels that the likes of Sevilla and Real Betis, who are second and third respectively, pose a more immediate threat than the Catalan club.

"Now Barcelona is not a direct rival because we are closer [to] Sevilla, Atletico or Betis, but if I were Barcelona's coach I would say that we can't rule out LaLiga either," Ancelotti said to a news conference ahead of Los Blancos' league clash with Cadiz.

Ancelotti is without six players for Sunday's encounter due to COVID-19, with Marcelo, Luka Modric, Andriy Lunin, Marco Asensio, Gareth Bale and Rodrygo all unavailable, while Isco is a doubt.

The Italian gave fitness updates on the rest of the squad and was particularly optimistic about Eden Hazard's chances of playing a starring role.

"It is true that we have had setbacks but those who have tested positive are fine and the rest are ready to play tomorrow's game," Ancelotti continued.

"After the first positive tests, the [rest] all tested negative and we are determined to play. We have to live with it just as society is doing. This virus is less strong than before and we have to keep in mind that we have to take care of ourselves and follow all precautions.

"Hazard starts tomorrow. He wants motivation and he's going to play because he trained well and deserves it. He is always well. The problem is that he has not always been able to train 100 per cent and I think that tomorrow he will play a good game.

"Hazard is prepared. It is clear that in the first part of the season he had the competition of [Karim] Benzema and Vinicius [Junior] and now he can have a very, very good second part of the season.

"Benzema has trained very well. He is very well and will play. Modric has tested negative but remains confined. He is tired and has had a fever so he will not be there tomorrow. Then we have to assess what the regulations say."

Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti has questioned whether Gareth Bale should have played for Wales during the international break.

Bale has not played for the LaLiga club since August after suffering a knee injury against Real Betis.

The former Tottenham forward made his 100th senior international appearance for Wales in the 5-1 win over Belarus, but picked up a calf injury in that game and is now expected to miss several more weeks.

"He had recovered [from the knee injury]. Wales thought he was fit enough to play," Ancelotti told reporters at a media conference ahead of Sunday's trip to Granada.

"Perhaps they shouldn't have played him, but we have to make sure he recovers now because he could be a very useful player for the rest of this season and we hope to have him back soon.

"Gareth is an important player for Wales and he likes playing for his national team, but he also wants to play for Real Madrid. You can see when he trains with the effort and work he puts in. Of course, if he wants to play for his national team, he has to play well for Real Madrid and train well too."

Ancelotti was also asked about Eden Hazard, who was recently described as "sad in footballing terms" by Belgium head coach Roberto Martinez.

The former Chelsea attacker has made just four starts for Real Madrid this season, and Ancelotti understands his frustration.

"Of course, Hazard, like most players who don't play often, is unhappy," he said. "To be honest, I would be unhappy if he wasn't. You want players to try and fight for a first team spot.

"He's had a stomach bug and needs two or three days rest. It's not Covid. It's like a stomach flu."

The former Everton boss also wanted to make clear his frustration at the number of games his team has to play before the winter break, with nine games scheduled in a 31-day period.

"The players, clubs and managers have all come out and said there are too many games," Ancelotti exclaimed. "Something has to change. The way football is working right now isn't good for the sport, and changes have to be good changes, not decisions that lack common sense."

The 62-year-old was also asked about the recent appointment of Xavi at Barcelona, saying: "I'm sure Xavi is going to bring something different to the club.

"I'm sure we are going to be fighting them for the title, and I'd like to discover if there is anything different with this Barcelona side as soon as possible."

Eden Hazard is suffering through a "sad moment" in his career, according to Belgium boss Roberto Martinez.

Form and fitness woes have dogged Hazard since his big-money move to Real Madrid from Chelsea in 2019.

The 30-year-old soared to global prominence during a glittering seven-year spell at Stamford Bridge during which he won the Premier League twice, but he has failed to recapture that brilliance at the Santiago Bernabeu.

With Hazard only on the fringes of Carlo Ancelotti's Madrid team this season, Martinez conceded the forward is not having the best of times.

"In the recent years, he has lived with it, but he has been concentrated on the national team," said Martinez, whose side secured their spot at the 2022 World Cup last week.

"We need him to arrive at the World Cup prepared. We have grown as a dressing room.

"Eden is in a sad moment, football-wise. He has left winners projects [but] he doesn't have the rhythm of competition."

Hazard has made just four starts in a total of 10 appearances in LaLiga this season, spending 350 minutes on the pitch.

That time has yielded only one assist, with Hazard yet to score this term.

In his 116 appearances for his country, Hazard has found the net 33 times, but has added only one to that tally during qualifying for Qatar 2022.

Real Madrid are trying to offload a pair of veterans to Tottenham. 

Eden Hazard and Gareth Bale could be on the way out at the Santiago Bernabeu. 

Spurs are reportedly only interested in one of them.

 

TOP STORY – SPURS WEIGH BALE REUNION

Gareth Bale could be headed for a permanent return to Tottenham, El Nacional reports. 

Real Madrid have offered Bale and Eden Hazard to Spurs but head coach Antonio Conte is not interested in his former Chelsea player. 

However, Spurs may pounce for Bale at a reduced price before he is out of contract following the season.

 

ROUND-UP

Manchester United are interested in adding France defender Jules Kounde to replace Harry Maguire, says Todofichajes, which reports Sevilla will demand €80million (£68m) in return. 

Donny van de Beek wants out at United, according to the Metro, and Birmingham Live says Wolves will make a strong push to sign the Dutch midfielder, with Everton and Newcastle United also rumoured suitors.

- Fiorentina are willing to sell Dusan Vlahovic in January if an interested club like Manchester City or Tottenham will pay £70m for the Serbia international, says the Sun. Vlahovic has also been linked with Bayern MunichAtletico Madrid, Juventus, Inter and Arsenal.

Milan have joined Chelsea and Atletico in pursuit of 17-year-old Angers striker Mohamed-Ali Cho, according to L'Equipe. 

Barcelona will extend 17-year-old Spain sensation Gavi's contract for five years, reports Fabrizio Romano. 

Dean Smith's appointment at Norwich City is expected to become official Monday, says The Guardian. 

Belgium boss Roberto Martinez has insisted that qualifying for the World Cup remains his priority, explaining he will take it slow with Eden Hazard as the Real Madrid forward makes his way back to full fitness.

The Red Devils are five points clear at the top of Group E with two games left to play and can seal their spot at the World Cup with a win over Estonia on Saturday.

Hazard has not started a game at club or international level since the 3-2 defeat against France in the semi-finals of the Nations League last month, however, with his last start for Madrid coming in a 2-1 loss to Sheriff on September 28.

The 30-year-old is set to feature in some way over Belgium's next two games, but Martinez is more concerned with his side confirming their place at the World Cup.

"At the moment all our work is based on trying to qualify," Martinez said ahead of the game against Estonia. "If we need two games to qualify, so be it, and that's our approach.

"If we can qualify with our home game in front of our fans then it's going to be another reset on how we approach the last game [against Wales], but it's important for us that we compete to qualify for the World Cup and try to preserve our position in the world rankings.

"Then it comes to bearing in mind all the [players'] physical states. In the case of Eden he hasn't played a lot of football so every day that we assess here we take a lot into consideration, the same way that we do with every single player that we have.

"The first goal is to qualify for the World Cup and see when we can do that."

Martinez explained that he was pleased with the former Chelsea winger's work in training since arriving for national team duty, but warned that Hazard is unlikely to be fit enough to play for a full match.

"Obviously, when you welcome Eden Hazard into the camp it's just to assess the work that he can do here and I've been very pleased in that respect," Martinez continued. 

"He looks happy, he looks forward to the game and then I just feel that we're going to use how he feels during the game to see if he can play 90 [minutes] or not.

"I would be surprised if he can play 90 at this stage [although] it depends a lot on what type of game we get. With Eden, we're going to go slowly and make sure we make good forward steps.

"I see him in a very, very good mental state, he looks really sharp, so for me, it's a question of seeing how long he can play rather than anything else."

After facing Estonia, Belgium's final Group E game is on Tuesday against Wales, who are five points behind them in the standings.

Vinicius Junior has been in dazzling form for Real Madrid.

Previously linked with Paris Saint-Germain as part of a possible deal to bring Kylian Mbappe to the Spanish capital, Vinicius has established himself under Carlo Ancelotti.

Now, a bumper contract is on the cards.

 

TOP STORY – VINICIUS SET FOR NEW DEAL

Real Madrid star Vinicius Junior is set to hold contract talks with the LaLiga giants, according to Fabrizio Romano.

Vinicius is contracted to Madrid until 2025 but Los Blancos are determined to offer the Brazil international fresh terms.

The 21-year-old has been in red-hot form at the Santiago Bernabeu this season.

 

ROUND-UP

- El Nacional reports Barcelona are targeting Beijing Guoan striker Cedric Bakambu as a short-term replacement for sidelined star Sergio Aguero, who is facing at least three months out due to a potential heart condition.

Luka Jovic is eager to leave Madrid in January, says Defensa Central. The Serbia international has been linked with former club Eintracht Frankfurt, Inter, Milan, Arsenal and Liverpool.

Manchester United have rejected the chance to sign struggling Madrid star Eden Hazard, claims the Daily Mail. Hazard has also been reportedly snubbed by Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich and Newcastle United.

Kevin De Bruyne has been backed to roar back to form by Belgium boss Roberto Martinez as the Manchester City playmaker looks to come through a sticky patch.

Ahead of Saturday's derby against Manchester United, De Bruyne is looking to improve on his unusually quiet start to the season.

In 13 appearances across all competitions, he has managed three goals but just one assist and has played a full 90 minutes only three times, with Pep Guardiola suggesting his chief creator is feeling a little fatigued.

Martinez has selected De Bruyne in his squad for World Cup qualifiers against Estonia and Wales later this month, and quelled concerns about the 30-year-old's performance levels.

He pointed to City's EFL Cup penalty shoot-out loss to West Ham, and the Premier League defeat to Crystal Palace, and suggested those results had turned up the heat.

"When you play in a team expected to win every game, you'll get that level of scrutiny when you don't," Martinez said.

"Man City have been playing their normal brand, they lost a shoot-out then a game at home. I saw Kevin against Brugge [in the Champions League] and his body language was good. I'm not worried at all. We feel that his best football is coming back."

De Bruyne managed 10 goals and 18 assists for City in all competitions last season, creating 28 big chances for others in all. He has carved out five big chances so far in 2021-22, with such opportunities defined by Opta as openings from which a player should reasonably be expected to score.

 

At his best, Eden Hazard was producing spectacular numbers for Chelsea – peaking with 21 goals and 17 assists in 2018-19 – but De Bruyne's Belgium team-mate is enduring a difficult run now he is at Real Madrid.

After four goals and two assists in 21 games last term, Hazard has just a single entry in the latter column for his efforts after 10 outings this term.

Hazard warmed up extensively but was unused by Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti in this week's Champions League game against Shakhtar Donetsk, prompting an apology from the coach.

"Getting upset is normal. I believe getting upset is the fair reaction to manage this situation," Ancelotti said after the game. "I am so sorry. I told the players: I am sorry, but I didn't want to make any substitutions."

Hazard can stake a claim for greater involvement at Madrid by hitting top gear with Belgium, says Martinez.

"Eden is not playing as many minutes as we all thought," the Belgium boss said. "We've got a close relationship with the Real Madrid physical department and he's fully fit.

"His focus and attitude has given us a positive feeling. I know he's doing extra work to stay in shape, but he needs to be on the pitch to pick up the pace of the match. Coming to the national team can help him in that sense.

"It's important for every player to be on the pitch and achieve what he wants to achieve. It's a difficult situation when you can't, and it has been a difficult two years, but the signs are positive that he can get himself ready for a strong finish in the campaign."

Carlo Ancelotti said "I am not Gareth Bale's father" but launched a defence of the Real Madrid forward and insists he will play if he deserves to when returning from international duty.

Since coming back from a loan stint with Tottenham last season, Bale has made just three appearances for Los Blancos – the same number of times he has played for Wales in 2021-22 – due to a troublesome thigh injury.

Despite including two LaLiga titles, four Champions League medals and a Copa del Rey on an impressive resume with Madrid, the club's fanbase have often made Bale the subject of their ire.

It was put to head coach Ancelotti that he had protected Bale like a father in the past, but the Italian said his achievements at the club should always be remembered.

"I'm not his father, firstly. It may be that Bale's last period was not good, but nobody forgets what Bale has done," he said ahead of Madrid's LaLiga contest with Rayo Vallecano.

"In 2014 he helped us win the Champions League, the Copa del Rey, in 2018 he helped us win the Champions League against Liverpool.

"The fans are not forgetting this. He is not having his best moment, but we have to have faith. When he comes back from the national team, if he deserves to play, he will play."

Bale is set to link up with Wales despite not being available against Vallecano this weekend.

Ancelotti confirmed Madrid cannot prevent Bale from playing during the international break as he has recovered from injury and has been training this week.

"He has trained well, but he is not called up. He goes to Wales and the national team will evaluate whether he can play or not. It will depend on how the player feels. They will decide there," he added.

"The important thing is that Bale is fine, but after two months out it is important what the player feels.

"If the national team calls him, we have to send him. We explain how the situation is and then Wales have a week to assess the situation. I think Wales are not going to take a risk."

Another player who has not always found favour with the fans is Eden Hazard, who has been frustrated in his pursuit of regular football this term with Vinicius Jr preferred on the left of attack.

Ancelotti is planning to give Hazard some game time this weekend, and the coach applauded the Belgium star's professionalism.

 

"Hazard is not happy, because he has quality, he is professional and he is training well. He deserves to have minutes and he will have minutes, by the way," he said.

"If he continues to have faith, he will have minutes. If he will have them on Saturday, I don't know. The important thing is that he is plugged in. 

"I am sorry because Hazard is very professional. Whether he will play from the beginning, I have to think about it."

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