Football

Conte knows when Hazard lights up

Chelsea manager banks on in-form Belgian star, but is also wary of over-taxing him

As indispensable as Eden Hazard might be, Antonio Conte knows he must also tell the Belgian to take a break when the need arises.

Speaking ahead of the Swansea game, the Chelsea manager said last night that he can't have the best available for every game, and he can only do the best with what's available to him.

English Premier League
CHELSEA SWANSEA

Asked how he would tell Hazard that he might be rested, Conte said: "Every game, I must make the best decision and protect every player.

"I would like to start every game with the best players but, at the same time, I do not think it is possible.

"I take the risk that I do not think is right and... it is a long season.

"At the same time, it is not easy or simple or leave great players to rest. I want the best for the team and the player.

"I think Eden is an important player. He is used to this type of situations.

"It is normal in the past if you see, for Messi or Neymar, or Ronaldo, it is the same. They are very fast and physical players."

It would take a compelling reason for Hazard to be rested, though.

Forced to settle for a 1-1 draw at Liverpool last Saturday, defending champions Chelsea are lagging 11 points behind runaway leaders Manchester City.

If Conte's side are to have any change of catching the Premier League pace-setters, they must reel off the kind of lengthy winning streak that catapulted them to the title last season.

Key to Chelsea's hopes of emulating that burst is the form of Hazard, who looks back to his best after an injury-hit start to the campaign.

The 26-year-old was outstanding playing alongside Alvaro Morata at Anfield and Liverpool found it impossible to subdue him.

He often dropped into midfield to control possession and Conte feels his flexibility brings new dimension to the team.

"The start of this season was full of trouble with Eden because he had an injury with the national team and we started the season without him," Conte said.

"Now I think Eden is in really good form and I think he likes to play as a striker.

"There is a good link with Alvaro and, for me, also it's a great opportunity to play with two different systems."

Defender David Luiz will miss the Swansea game due to a knee injury, while Victor Moses is in contention after a hamstring injury suffered last month.

Swansea could be easy pickings for Chelsea as Paul Clement's side arrive at Stamford Bridge second from bottom after a five-match winless run.

A dour goalless draw with Bournemouth last Saturday did little to improve Clement's job security after the former Chelsea assistant was reported to be on the verge of the sack last week.

Clement admits confidence has been low at Swansea of late, but he insists his players still believe they can put together a winning run and climb out of the relegation zone.

"It's no secret the team have been down in confidence, but the running and battling was strong and we played some good football," Clement said.

"Our form has not been particularly good, but there's the belief we have." - WIRE SERVICES