Eden Hazard started the week clutching the PFA Young Player of the Year award, but it was a date with his hero Zinedine Zidane that he really wanted to show for his efforts this season.
Throughout his short career Hazard has made no secret of his admiration for Zidane, using the few interviews he gives to reveal how he watched the Frenchman perform on the biggest stage while he looked on as an impressionable young child at home.
Perhaps the greatest galactico of them all had already secured his place in the Champions League final in Lisbon on 24 May, although now as part of Real Madrid’s coaching staff under Carlo Ancelotti rather than as a player.
Those days are long gone. And in Cristiano Ronaldo Madrid have a player threatening to put even Zidane in the shade. On Tuesday night Ronaldo had shown what difference a world-class player can make even against the strongest of opponents, taking his goal tally to a record 16 in Europe’s premier club competition with two more to break Bayern Munich hearts.
It is the level Hazard has been tipped to reach by others, and one he aspires to himself. This semi-final second leg gave him the opportunity to show it. The 23-year-old’s preparation had been far from ideal. It was his first appearance since limping off with a lower-calf injury in the previous round against Paris Saint-Germain three weeks ago.
One always suspected his manager, Jose Mourinho, was saving his top scorer – 17 goals this season – for the challenge of breaking down the red-and-white wall belonging to the visitors. Chelsea had sorely missed his creativity the week before and never looked likely to get that crucial away goal.
Atletico were not going to make it easy for Hazard to achieve his dream of meeting Zidane in the final and going trick for trick with Ronaldo.
There was always a question of just how match-fit Hazard was, even after such a brief absence, and right-back Juanfran made sure he did not get off to a confident start. Indeed, for the first 20 minutes Hazard was barely noticeable. That Arda Turan was providing Juanfran with ample support did not help his cause.
Then, finally, there were some signs of the old spark. A neat dummy over Fernando Torres’ pass put Ramires briefly clear in the area, then there was a trademark run and a cross that was desperately cleared for a corner.
It was not Ronaldo-esque, far from it. In fact, his most obvious contribution in the first half was a costly loss of concentration for his own side. Despite his subdued showing, Chelsea looked like they were heading into the break with a crucial one-goal lead.
Yet at the worst possible time, Hazard forgot his duties defensively and let Juanfran run in unmarked at the far post to square for Adrian Lopez’s morale-sapping equaliser a minute before the interval.
There was still plenty of time to make amends but he disappeared, almost as quickly as Chelsea’s hopes of a third final in seven years. He was also guilty of switching off for Atletico’s third, earning a baleful stare from John Terry.
So Hazard will have to watch Zidane – and Ronaldo – from afar once again next month. He is obviously good, but not quite good enough just yet.
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