Big transfer fees no ticket to starting 11 for Hazard, Felix, Griezmann


BARCELONA: Eden Hazard, Joao Felix and Antoine Griezmann cost a combined €346 million but had to settle for places on the bench as the coaches at Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Barcelona put game strategy before price tags at the weekend.

Hazard, Real Madrid’s record signing at a reported 100 million euros, had recently recovered from the latest in a long run of injuries but was left out of the starting 11 for the third game in a row for Saturday’s 2-0 home win over Celta Vigo.

Marco Asensio, who cost Madrid only €4m in 2014, started instead and more than justified Zinedine Zidane’s decision by setting up one goal and scoring the other.

The French coach said Hazard had to be reintroduced “little by little” due to his injury record, which has limited the Belgian to 17 league starts since his 2019 move from Chelsea.

The following day eyebrows were raised when a perfectly fit Joao Felix was left out of Atletico’s side to face Alaves away, with Angel Correa getting the nod instead.

The 20-year-old forward came on in the second half and proved his value by setting up Luis Suarez’s late winner.

“It was my choice. I believed the hard work Correa puts in on the right wing would serve us well,” Atleti coach Diego Simeone explained. “Games last 90 minutes and this was part of the strategy. Joao came on and did very well.”

The Portuguese sensation, who cost 126 million euros after one season with Benfica, has often looked like a strange fit for Simeone, who tends to favour hard workers over flair players.

The Argentine provoked an angry reaction from Felix when he took him off during last month’s derby match at Real and even though Atletico top La Liga, the relationship between coach and star player does not appear to be a healthy one.

Felix joined Atletico just after Antoine Griezmann moved to Barcelona for 120 million euros and the France striker’s difficult stay in Catalonia hit a new low when he was dropped from the team for the 1-0 win at bottom side Huesca.

Griezmann’s low status at Barca was summed up when coach Ronald Koeman said he preferred Denmark international Martin Braithwaite, an emergency signing from Leganes last year, to the World Cup winner as a centre forward. – Reuters

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