Hazard seeks 1st goal for Madrid in derby vs. Atlético

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              Real Madrid's Eden Hazard, center, is challenged by Sevilla's Daniel Carrico during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Sevilla and Real Madrid at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan stadium in Seville, Spain, Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Miguel Morenatti)
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Eden Hazard is hoping to score his first goal since joining Real Madrid when it visits Atlético Madrid in the Spanish capital derby on Saturday.

After the “clásico” between Barcelona and Madrid, the derby is the most highly anticipated league game in Spain. And with Madrid leading La Liga by one point ahead of Atlético, the winner will put itself in early command of the title race.

“You know what the vibes are like in these games, the passion, the rivalry between the fans, especially when you’ve got two teams from the same city, like Real Madrid and Atlético,” Hazard said. “I want to score and win in the derby. Your mentality, in a derby that’s key and what’s even more important is your desire. When you’re a football player, you know what derbies are like. You know what you have to do, you just have to win. You don’t need your teammates to tell you that.”

Hazard joined Madrid in June on a club-record transfer of around 100 million euros ($113 million) plus add-ons. He has been considered by fans as a late replacement for star Cristiano Ronaldo, who left over a year ago.

The Belgium midfielder has only made three appearances so far for Madrid due to an injury in the preseason. He was on the pitch for most of the humbling 3-0 loss at Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League, then helped the team earn a hard-fought 1-0 victory at Sevilla last weekend when his performance stood out more for his defensive work rate than his attacking flair. He did not play in a 2-0 win over Osasuna in midweek as he was rested ahead of the Atlético match.

Hazard will likely join Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale to lead Zinedine Zidane’s attack.

The match at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium will bring Hazard face to face with former Chelsea teammate Diego Costa.

Costa scored 20 times for Chelsea both in the 2014-15 and 2016-17 season, when he teamed up with Hazard to guide their side to a pair of English Premier League crowns. But Costa has scored just six goals in the Spanish league since returning to Atlético from Chelsea in the middle of the 2017-18 season. He finally got his first of this season on Wednesday, when he scored in a 2-0 win at Mallorca.

“Diego Costa is the opposing player I want to come up against because he’s my friend and we played together,” Hazard said.

With Álvaro Morata suspended, coach Diego Simeone will have no choice but to go with Costa to spearhead his attack alongside the 19-year-old João Félix.

Costa scored four goals in a friendly against Madrid this preseason in New Jersey that Atletico won 7-3, but Simeone said that he expects Saturday’s match to be a totally different contest.

“Bale has taken a step forward, Benzema is playing at his best, and Hazard has incredible skills,” Simeone said. “We have to take the game to our territory where we think we can do them damage. These are matches that are very competitive, ones that are decided in key moments and by details that swing the result one way or the other.”

Madrid leads the league with 14 points from six games. Atlético is one point behind in third place, trailing a surprisingly good Real Sociedad on goal difference.

Defending champion Barcelona, which faces a trip to Getafe earlier on Saturday most likely without the injured Lionel Messi, is four points off the pace in sixth place.