Eden Hazard’s abysmal career at the Spanish capital so far is intuitively linked to the array of injuries he has suffered since making the move from Chelsea. He is a LaLiga Champion and a two-time SuperCopa champion who’s contributed little to those titles. Previously, Hazard lacked contribution primarily because he was hardly ever available because of his chronic injuries since the infamous tackle by his countryman Thomas Meunier on a cursed and rainy night in Madrid in 2019. Almost three and a half years later, under the reign of Carlo Ancelotti, Hazard’s contribution remains minimal but for different reasons.
Ancelotti keeps empathizing with all of his fringe players in almost every press conference, but the choice between Vinicius Jr (one of the best forwards in the world) and Hazard is really not that difficult. The Belgian was arguably in the best form of his Real Madrid career before Meunier’s tackle crashed everything down. He has never been able to replicate that form (apart from maybe a couple cameos for the Belgium national team) ever since. In the meantime, Vinicius Jr has stamped his name as the second name on the teamsheet behind Karim Benzema. This has made Hazard’s time at Real Madrid extremely complicated.
Ancelotti is not willing to play an extra midfielder behind the forwards, and Hazard’s experimental appearances on the right-wing should not be repeated under any circumstances. The left-wing is the only position where Hazard can play in Ancelotti’s team but Vinicius is indispensable in that position. Due to the Brazilian’s impressive G+A numbers, it has been difficult for Ancelotti to even give substitute minutes to Hazard.
It’s also about the dynamics of the team. Vinicius can play outside and inside of the half-space on the left. He can make darting runs from the halfway line, taking on one, two, three, even four defenders at times. With Hazard, the team needs to overhaul their attacking approach since he can only depend on occupying good spaces and trying to move opponents by linking up with teammates high up the pitch. While this is not the worst approach, it's often not the approach that’s optimal for Real Madrid against tiring opponents in the final stages of a match.
The pass reception areas of Hazard might seem much more impressive but in reality, it’s so scattered because the team did not have a fixed plan when going forward with him. However, this apparent flaw has the potential to be transformed into a strength if utilized properly. The first step to solving a problem is recognizing the problem.
Hazard’s problem is that he is no longer the left-winger he used to be and Real Madrid does not have enough time to revitalize him in that position regardless of the possibility. Real Madrid is still heavily dependent on Benzema and Vinicius for their goals. No other player on the team has G+A numbers in double digits except these two. Benzema was absent against Elche in the Copa del Rey; Vinicius did not have his scoring boots on. If Isco and Hazard had not risen to the occasion, Real Madrid would be out of the competition by now. This is where squad management becomes paramount.
Hazard’s movement inside the half-spaces and his intelligence as a footballer (which is still there, unlike his fitness) can be useful against certain opponents such as Elche. Of course, he does not possess the form to dislodge Vinicius out of the starting line-up but he still possesses some skills that can assist the team in very specific situations. This is where Ancelotti has to do better, to pick and choose the moments and unleash the fringe players into situations where they can maximize their chances. At least on paper, this Real Madrid squad is still pretty deep. While they’re definitely (and rightly) not high up in the pecking order, the likes of Isco, Ceballos, Hazard, and Jovic can still be useful if the coach can use them in situations catered for them.
Hazard’s goal vs. Elche in the Copa del Rey is too small of a sample size to be too excited about. But the season is still very long. The summer transfer window of 2022 is still far away. Real Madrid needs every ounce of effort from everyone to win something bigger than the Supercopa this season.