When Real Madrid signed Eden Hazard from Chelsea in 2019, there was a real belief that he could be the catalyst for future success.
After a trophy-laden period which saw Zinedine Zidane’s side notch no fewer than three Champions League crowns in as many years, the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo in 2018 spelt the end of an era at Santiago Bernabeu.
Naturally, the loss of the superstar saw Real encounter some teething problems, and in their first season without the Portuguese goal machine Real finished a disappointing third in La Liga and were dumped out of the Champions League in the last 16.
The arrival of Hazard was hardly a knee-jerk reaction to their poor campaign – Los Blancos had been courting the Belgian for some time – though he was still seen as the man to bring the spark back to the capital.
18 months on and Hazard has mustered a measly 22 La Liga appearances in the famous white of Madrid, notching just two goals in the process.
Admittedly, injuries have plagued the 30-year-old’s time in Spain, and even this season he’s managed little over four hours of league football. However, his appearance in the Spanish Super Cup semi final against Athletic Club on Thursday night was his fourth game in little over a fortnight – just the second time since arriving in Spain that he’s played more than three consecutive games.
In a week where Zidane sanctioned the departure of Luka Jovic to former club Eintracht Frankfurt, Madrid’s attacking options suddenly look threadbare, but – despite a truly abject team performance – Hazard’s display against Athletic was a timely reminder that he still has a huge part to play at the club.
The former Chelsea man looked lively from the off, stinging the fingertips of Athletic goalkeeper Unai Simon before a beautiful give and go with Casemiro which very nearly broke the deadlock, only for Hazard to be denied with a last-ditch challenge.
One thing which became abundantly clear as the game wore on was that the Belgium international was playing with the sort of swagger and confidence that we’d become so accustomed to seeing during his time at Chelsea.
Far from being stuck out on the left wing, Hazard drifted across the forward line all game, picking up little pockets of space on the half-turn where he could probe and look to cause mischief.
He very nearly helped give Madrid a foothold in the game when his clever movement saw him elude the opposition backline, before showing the presence of mind to cut the ball back to Marcos Asensio, only for the Spaniard to rattle the post with his left-footed effort.
The movement and the intelligence to pick out his teammate was top class, and in truth it deserved so much more.
While Zidane’s side were absolutely woeful on the night, the one shining light for them was the display of Hazard. He lasted just short of 70 minutes – his second longest run out of the season – and it was abundantly clear that there’s still magic in those boots.
If Hazard can continue to play regularly, it won’t be long before he’s back to full fitness and he can be a huge part of Real Madrid’s season.