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Published: 23:22 | 24/9/17

Conte defends caution over Hazard


Chelsea manager Antonio Conte has defended his treatment of Eden Hazard on his return from injury, and says the Belgian playmaker is "in contention" to start against Atletico Madrid on Wednesday.

The Italian has not picked Hazard to start a Premier League game this season as the 2015 PFA Player of the Year continues to work his way back to full match fitness following a fractured ankle in June.

The 26-year-old played 90 minutes of Wednesday's 5-1 Carabao Cup home win over Nottingham Forest, but was dropped to the bench for the champions' 4-0 Premier League win at Stoke on Saturday.

Chelsea's Premier League game against Manchester City at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, 30 September is live on BT Sport 1 on the eir Sport pack [kick off 5.30pm]

But Conte hinted he will start Hazard in the Champions League Group C game against Atletico at the Wanda Metropolintano, saying: "He is improving a lot and for sure he is in contention for the game against Atletico.

"After a bad injury, and surgery, you need time. He has shown he is ready to play, but if I make this decision it will be because I am comfortable with it.

"Hazard is very important to us. Now it is important to be sure he is ready to play for the whole game.

"He knows we are a big team, there are many players and he must be ready to play from the start or to stay on the bench and make the difference when he comes on.

"I think we are managing him very well. I don't see a problem."

Chelsea top Group C after Matchday One's 6-0 win over Azerbaijan's Qarabag at Stamford Bridge, while Atletico and AS Roma are two points behind following their goalless draw at the Stadio Olimpico.

Conte also hailed "complete player" Alvaro Morata after the Spain international's hat-trick against Stoke at the Bet 365 Stadium took his goal tally to six in six Premier League matches.

"Alvaro don't forget, in his previous experience, didn't play a lot at Juventus or at Real Madrid," Conte said. 

"Now he has a great chance to show that he is a really good striker, a fantastic striker. He is very young, only 24-years-old.

"I think this is very important for Chelsea. I think now he is involved in our style of football, in our ideas, he is very strong because you could see against Stoke that he made a lot of contact with the defenders. 

"I think he is showing that he is a really complete player."

Conte has been particularly impressed by Morata's willingness to embrace the physicality of the Premier League, after spells in Serie A and La Liga with Juventus and Real Madrid.

"This league is not easy, especially for the striker," he continued. 

"During the game there's a lot of contact, you must be prepared for this type of contact. Also the referees don't waste time a lot. I think it is good for the game.

"He adapted very well to this league, now he needs to continue to work because he has only just started down this path."

You can watch all of Chelsea’s Champions League campaign on the eir Sport package. Antonio Conte’s side will face Atletico Madrid, Qarabag and Roma in Group C. The Premier League champions' game against Atletico Madrid at Estadio Metropolitano on Wednesday, 26 September is live on eir Sport 1 [kick off 7.45pm]

Image: Getty Images/ Richard Heathcote

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