Sarri drops hint over Eden Hazard’s return to Chelsea starting XI

Maurizio Sarri believes Eden Hazard could be ready to start for Chelsea next Sunday against Newcastle.

Hazard has started Chelsea’s first two matches of the 2018-19 Premier League season on the bench having only returned to training a week before the new campaign kicked off.

The Belgium international chipped in with an assist after coming on as a second half sub in his side’s season opener against Huddersfield and set up Marcos Alonso’s winner in Saturday’s 3-2 victory over Arsenal at Stamford Bridge.

Having eased his star man back into the starting XI after a draining World Cup campaign in the summer, Sarri believes Hazard is getting closer to his peak condition again.

“He is a great player,” Sarri said. “But I think that, at this moment, he’s not able to play for 90 minutes so yesterday I thought it was better to give him 25-30 minutes when the intensity of the match has come down. But I think, I hope, that in one week, maximum two weeks, he’ll be able to play the whole game.”

Hazard and deadline day signing Mateo Kovacic helped tilt Saturday’s match in Chelsea’s favour after coming off the bench but there was no room in the squad for Ruben Loftus-Cheek.

The England international flourished out on loan at Crystal Palace last season but looks set to stay at Stamford Bridge this season despite intense competition for places.

Loftus-Cheek featured as a second half sub in the victory over Huddersfield last week but Sarri explained he was omitted on Saturday for tactical reasons.

“It depends on the position on the pitch,” Sarri said of Loftus-Cheek’s first-team prospects. “I prefer to have on the bench two wingers, and only one midfielder. So it depends on this. Not any other situation. I needed one goalkeeper, one full-back, one centre-back, maybe two midfielders and only one winger, but yesterday I preferred vice versa, two wingers and one midfielder.”