Eden Hazard shows what Chelsea will miss if this was his home farewell | Ed Aarons | Football
So farewell Eden, if this is really the end. It has been almost seven years since the Belgium international famously announced on Twitter: “I’m signing for the champion’s league winner”, rejecting approaches from both Manchester clubs among others after a frenzied chase for his signature in the spring of 2012.
The opportunity to see Eden Hazard in what might prove to be his last appearance at Stamford Bridge was always likely to be an emotional occasion for Chelsea’s supporters and so it proved on a night that perhaps encapsulated why he could be leaving.
His penalty sent Maurizio Sarri’s side through to the final in Baku where they will face Arsenal after a tense shootout, although it need not have been so complicated.
The giant flag bearing Hazard’s name with an image of him sliding on his knees in celebration, which swept across the Matthew Harding Stand as the players made their way out of the tunnel before kick-off, was evidence of what he means to the faithful in these parts.
Reports in Spain this week have suggested that he has already been house hunting as a potential £140m move to Real Madrid draws near, although his first-half performance suggested Hazard still has unfinished business at Chelsea having missed out on their Europa League victory under Rafael Benítez in 2013 because of injury.
The hushed silence from the otherwise vociferous travelling supporters when he drove at their defence for the first time in the eighth minute was an illustration of the anxiety he can provoke in opposition fans.
Their worst fears were realised soon after when a run that left poor David Abraham bamboozled ended with the precise through ball for Ruben Loftus-Cheek to open the scoring. It was vintage Hazard on his 350th appearance for Chelsea – the kind of trick he has been performing with aplomb ever since his home debut against Reading in August 2012.
His stay has yielded two Premier League titles, an FA Cup and a League Cup but that return feels sparse for a player of his immense ability and inevitably begs the question whether he made the correct choice.
Eliminated in the group stages of the Champions League during his first campaign, the closest he has come to claiming the biggest club prize of them all came in 2014 under José Mourinho when they lost in the semi-finals to Atlético Madrid. Chelsea have failed to get past the last 16 since then, perhaps Hazard’s main motivation for wanting to join the 13-time winners this summer.
Even by Chelsea’s standards, this has been an erratic season under Sarri that will at least culminate with their return to Europe’s top table next year. Yet any suggestion that they are capable of matching Liverpool or Tottenham’s efforts in reaching the final were sadly undermined by their response to going ahead here.
Sarri’s side failed to take the initiative and allowed an exciting Eintracht Frankfurt – who came from two goals down in their quarter-final against Benfica – back into the game.
Luka Jovic’s equaliser drew an immediate response from Hazard as a cheeky back heel set up Loftus-Cheek for another chance that just went past the post but his influence waned as the German side pressed forward.
As talented as he no doubt is, one criticism of the 28-year-old has been that he can go missing when things are not going his side’s way. That was levelled at him in 2014 against Atlético and that was certainly the case here at times as Eintracht missed two golden chances to win it in extra time before Hazard applied the coup de grâce from the spot.
Their transfer ban could yet be the saving grace that prevents him from fulfilling his dream move should the court of arbitration for sport decide not to freeze it on appeal, although the expectation is that La Liga will welcome one of the best players ever to grace the Premier League. He will certainly be missed.