After brushing past two opposition players, the Belgian unleashed a swerving drive which fooled the goalkeeper and found the back of the net.
It was a moment which illustrated what Hazard offers Real Madrid. It highlighted just what Zinedine Zidane has been missing with the Belgian on the sidelines for much of the last two years and why he could be the spark that ignites Real Madrid’s attack. He could be the one who makes all the difference.
Real Madrid have struggled to get going over the early part of this season. Since returning to the Santiago Bernabeu for a second spell, Zidane has built his frontline around Karim Benzema, to such an extent that when the Frenchman is out of form Los Blancos frequently draw a blank. They are dependent on him.
This is a large part of why Real Madrid need Hazard. There have been signs of a relationship between Benzema and the Belgian. They are on the same wavelength, with one easing the burden on the other. It was no coincidence that Benzema’s best performance of the season so far came in the win over Huesca, with Hazard back in the team.
Hazard has endured a staggered start to life at the Santiago Bernabeu, but the Belgian is growing in stature in Spain. Progress this season has been slow, yet there have been glimpses of the role the 29-year-old will perform if he can finally put the injury troubles of the last two years behind him.
Later than originally billed, the era of Hazard at Real Madrid might well be upon us. Everything is set up for the Belgian to make the Santiago Bernabeu (or the Estadio Alfredo di Stefano as it has been this season) his domain, with a clear role for the 29-year-old in Zidane’s system.
That role is on the left side, where Hazard has always been most effective. On paper, Zidane’s system is a 4-3-3, but Hazard’s inclusion in the team changes this slightly. Real Madrid are currently lacking an obvious figure on the right side and so Fede Valverde has assumed this position in a hybrid central midfield-right wing role.
With Valverde in this position, the front three becomes more of a front two - Benzema and Hazard. This places an onus on the wing backs to provide width, but in the likes of Dani Carvajal, Marcelo, Ferland Mendy and Lucas Vazquez they have players capable of that. Hazard’s understanding with Mendy in particular seems strong.
Going back to his Chelsea days, Hazard has long wanted to play more centrally and Real Madrid’s lack of a true right-wing option means he might get his wish for the foreseeable future. Even in a true 4-3-3, Hazard is likely to cut inside to link up with teammates, with one-twos from Toni Kroos a go-to sequence.
Only Benzema (3.6) has averaged more shots on goal per 90 minutes than Hazard (3.0) this season. In terms of dribbles per 90 minutes, the Belgian (3.0) is behind only Mendy (3.0). He brings a forward thrust to Real Madrid’s play that only Vinicius Junior comes close to offering, and Hazard is far more polished in his output than the raw Brazilian.
Zidane has spoken about Hazard, along with Benzema and Marco Asensio, having the potential to “define an era” for Real Madrid. Of course, Benzema already defined an era for the club, while Asensio is more likely to do so in the long term. Hazard, however, is the player for the here and now.
Fitness has been an issue for Hazard as a Real Madrid player, and not just in relation to his injury record. Zidane has made the imposing of a high press one of the priorities of his second spell in charge of the club, but this is an area where Hazard must bring himself up to speed. Even when he has played, the Belgian has rarely lasted much longer than an hour. Zidane has spoken about the need to take it slow when reintegrating Hazard.
Zidane pushed for the signing of Hazard on the basis of how he believed the Belgian would forge a partnership with Benzema, giving him an apex to build his next great Real Madrid team around. That process has been hindered by injury, and most recently by a positive test for Covid-19 which ruled him out of the 4-1 defeat to Valencia, but Hazard is starting to feel like Real Madrid’s biggest difference maker. The one who could turn them from a flawed team into a great team once again.