Football

Chelsea boost as Hazard returns

Blues boss says he can now 'count on' his Belgian star, who has yet to feature for the club this term

LEICESTER CHELSEA

Defending English Premier League champions Chelsea received a boost yesterday when manager Antonio Conte revealed that Belgian star Eden Hazard is back in the squad to face Leicester City at the King Power Stadium today.

The 26-year-old playmaker has yet to play a game for the Blues this season because of an injury, but made a couple of appearances for his country during the international break.

A delighted Conte told reporters at the pre-match press conference yesterday: "Now he (Hazard) is available, he is in the list for the squad.

"He is improving a lot, he is working very hard to be ready. Now I can count on him.

"I have to decide the right minutes, but he is available now.

"When there is a bad injury and surgery, it is normal to pay attention to recovery... He is an important player for us."

The Italian also added that Belgium coach Roberto Martinez had spoken to him and received his blessings for Hazard to play in the World Cup qualifiers.

Belgium booked their ticket to next year's Finals in Russia following wins over Gibraltar (9-0) and Greece (2-1).

But while Hazard is back available for selection, the future of wantaway striker Diego Costa is still up in the air.

The Brazil-born Spaniard has remained in Brazil instead of reporting back to the club for duty, after it was made clear that he will not play for Chelsea again.

He is hoping to return to his former club Atletico Madrid, but La Liga outfit are still serving a transfer ban and therefore unable to field a new signing until January.

Turkish club Besiktas are believed to be interested in taking him on loan until January, but Conte was not keen to talk about the speculation.

The 48-year-old said: "No. No news. My focus is English football, not Turkey."

However, he let in that the situation with Costa is something all football managers must brace themselves for.

He said: "When you are a manager, you must be prepared to face this situation. Sometimes it's easy, sometimes difficult."

Meanwhile, Conte also described the coverage of Everton star Ross Barkley's failed move to Chelsea as "ridiculous".

Some reports suggested that the player had even undergone a medical at the club before making a U-turn on his decision, while others said that he had driven to London before deciding to stay with the Toffees.

Barkley has since clarified that he did not go through a medical on deadline day.

When asked, Conte said: "I don't like to speak about players of other teams, it shows a lack of respect. About this issue, it's ridiculous what I read, so I stop. It's ridiculous."

Chelsea face a gruelling run of games this month.

Today's clash with Leicester is quickly followed by Wednesday's (Singapore time) Champions League group game at home to Qarabag, with Chelsea needing to play seven fixtures in just 21 days.

But Conte was confident that all the hard work he was able to put in on the training ground in his first campaign meant his ideas were now firmly embedded in his players' minds.

"A year ago, they didn't know my idea of football, my physical work and the analysis," he said.

"It is easier now for me and my job at this point of the season. The feeling is a lot better if you compare now to this time last season." - WIRE SERVICES

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