Chelsea to unleash Eden Hazard at Atlético Madrid
Belgian pencilled in for only his second start since fractured ankle
Antonio Conte will hand Eden Hazard a second start of the season in the daunting Champions League tie at Atlético Madrid, confident the Belgian will use the competition to take his reputation “to another level” this term.
Hazard’s only previous start was in a League Cup thrashing of Nottingham Forest as Chelsea nursed him back into senior action after surgery on an ankle in the summer.
The 26-year-old, who is still expected to sign a long-term contract at Stamford Bridge worth €340,000 a week, has yet to make his mark for the London club in Europe’s elite club competition, with five goals – two of which came against Maribor – in 31 appearances to date, having joined in the aftermath of the team lifting the trophy in 2012.
Yet Conte believes Hazard’s game improved over last season, when Chelsea did not compete in Europe but the Belgian was so instrumental in securing a second Premier League title in three years, with the player happy despite regular interest from Real Madrid and now ready to stamp his authority on the competition.
“Last season Eden played a really important season, played very well, and was very important for us in winning the league,” Conte said in the lead up the game against Atlético at the Estadio Metropolitano.
“He showed in every game great talent, to be a really good player. A top player. But I think this competition is very important for him, and it’s important for the team, too. This competition brings you to another level. I think he has all the possibilities to do this. He’s a really top player. Now he’s totally fit and in contention for tomorrow’s game. I think it’s the right moment.”
Hazard, who has made clear to Chelsea his desire to extend his stay at the club, is likely to come in for either Pedro – who is carrying a slight knock sustained in the 4-0 win at Stoke on Saturday – or Willian. Alvaro Morata will again lead the line on his return to Madrid having scored a hat-trick at Stoke.
Diego Costa, who completed his €65 million move to Atlético from Chelsea on Tuesday night, is expected to be at the stadium on Wednesday having attended the weekend league victory against Sevilla, and Conte was asked about his strained relationship with the Brazil-born forward. “As I said before, I have no problem with Diego Costa,” said the Chelsea head coach.
“I said that we wish, for him, the best for the future. We want to thank him for the last season. But, I repeat, I have no problem with him.”
Rather than becoming embroiled in the Costa issue, Conte will use this occasion as a means of assessing his own team’s capabilities of competing in the Champions League against a side who have been finalists in two of the past four seasons.
“It’s time to play a really tough game against Atlético Madrid,” Conte said. “For us, it’s very important to play this type of game: away against one of the best teams in the Champions League. I think it’s the right moment also to understand where we are.” Guardian Service