Antonio Conte urged Eden Hazard and Chelsea to seize their opportunity in Wednesday night’s Champions League Group C clash at Atletico Madrid.
Diego Costa’s move to re-join Atletico from Chelsea last week is an intriguing sub-plot of the clash, but Conte preferred to focus on his current squad on Tuesday.
And the Italian wants Belgium playmaker Hazard, who is yet to start in the Premier League this season following his broken ankle in June, to build on his scintillating title-winning displays last season with Chelsea again among Europe’s elite.
“Last season Eden played a really important season, played very well and he was very important for us in winning the league,” Chelsea boss Conte said.
“Last season, he showed in every game great talent, to be a really good player, a top player.
“This competition is very important for him, but I think it’s important for the team.
“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.”
Chelsea were absent from the Champions League group stages for the first time since 2003-04 last season.
And Conte wants to measure his team against one with European pedigree in Diego Simeone’s Atletico.
“In this type of game, you understand which is also your moment,” Conte added.
“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.”
Hazard has five goals in 37 Champions League games, while Costa had a record of two in 15 for Chelsea.
Conte was reluctant to discuss Costa, giving short shrift to questions on the striker who successfully agitated for a return to Atletico.
Chelsea and Atletico announced a deal had been reached for an initial loan with a commitment to buy for a fee reportedly in the region of £58million after the Brazil-born Spain striker was deemed surplus to requirements.
Conte repeated his best wishes for Costa and insisted there was “no problem” between him and the striker and reiterated his thanks for their success last season in winning the Premier League.
Alvaro Morata is Costa’s direct replacement and has scored six times in six Premier League appearances.
Morata was in and out of the team at previous clubs Real Madrid and Juventus, but is integral to Conte’s Chelsea.
The Italian said: “For the first time, he’s having a great chance to start as a number nine, to have the responsibility, the right pressure, and he’s responding very well to this pressure.
“In a new league, in a new country, different habits, different language, different football… to start in this way you must be very strong.”
Spain defender Cesar Azpilicueta has provided assists for four of Morata’s goals.
Azpilicueta said: “He has adapted really well to our team, to the way we play since he came. His desire to perform, to be a big part of the team, has been huge.
“I know the work he has been doing. He got the rewards that every striker wants: he’s scored six goals.”
Source: By PA Sport Staff