Hazard lights up under new boss as Conte keeps focus on attacking
Chelsea 3-0 Burnley
Published 29/08/2016 | 02:30
Antonio Conte has vowed to help Eden Hazard reach his full potential as the Chelsea midfielder, who starred in Saturday's victory over Burnley, attempts to rediscover the form that made him Footballer of the Year in England in 2015.
Hazard, who endured such a miserable season last year, when he failed to score a league goal until April, has looked a completely different player under the new manager.
The Belgian was outstanding as he scored his second goal of the season and was man-of-the-match in a 3-0 victory over Burnley, which also featured goals from Willian and Victor Moses as Chelsea recorded their third straight victory.
Conte has clearly made the recuperation of Hazard a priority and predicts further improvement from the winger.
"Eden is a fantastic player," Conte said. "He has great talent and also I know he's a good guy. What's important is that he wants to improve and wants to work very hard.
"I want to work with my players to improve them and put them in the best condition to show their talent."
Watching Hazard in action against Burnley, it was hard to even compare him to the sulky, withdrawn character who looked so out of sorts last season and who contributed to the departure of Jose Mourinho as Chelsea missed out on European football for the first time in 20 years.
However, a lot has changed since then for the 25-year-old, who captained Belgium at Euro 2016 and is now entering the most important years of his career.
He opened the scoring against Burnley after only nine minutes, running all the way from the halfway line before firing home from the edge of the area, and could have scored two or three more in what was a hugely comfortable victory.
"It's an important time for him," said Conte. "Last season is the past, but it's important to remember, always, and to keep last season in our minds. When there is a difficult situation it's important to look back and find new strength to go forward."
What will excite Hazard is Conte's surprisingly attacking philosophy. Far from being restricted by a traditional Italian desire to defend, the new manager has instead shown a willingness to take risks.
In the victory over West Ham in their opening game Chelsea played 4-2-4 in the final stages and after getting their first clean sheet of the season on Saturday - Chelsea's first at Stamford Bridge in 14 matches - Conte outlined his desire not to defend deep.
"If I have to choose one way to defend I prefer to attack," he said. "The best way to defend is to go forward. We are improving also in this aspect.
"It is very strange that at home we conceded for 13 games, so I was very pleased to get a clean sheet.
"It's important to score one more goal than the opponent, but to keep the clean sheet is important for the confidence for the whole team."