London: Eden Hazard admits Chelsea are experiencing a more gruelling December than during last season’s Premier League title-winning campaign because of the club’s involvement in the Champions League.
Antonio Conte’s side welcome Southampton to Stamford Bridge this weekend after recovering from the shock defeat at West Ham United with a convincing 3-1 midweek win at Huddersfield Town.
The display against the newly-promoted Yorkshire side highlighted Chelsea’s forward strengths with Hazard combining well with Willian and Pedro to overwhelm the hosts.
The win opened up a four-point gap to fifth place and while Conte may have already conceded his side have no hope of defending their title, they are making impressive headway towards the target of ensuring their return to the Champions League next season. Having failed to qualify for last season’s European football, Conte’s side benefited from a reduced fixture list that contributed to them eventually becoming champions.
This time around, the Chelsea head coach has been forced to manage his squad in a different way and Hazard admits the additional demands have taken their toll.
“We have a lot of games in a short period,” said the Belgium playmaker. “Last year, we didn’t have this because we weren’t in the Champions League, but since I came to Chelsea, for six years now it has been the same. We can deal with that.
“We have a lot of players. Of course you want to rest a little bit more, but it’s not possible.
“We had a bad game against West Ham. When things happen like this we need to bounce back. We did that, and we scored three goals.
“I think the fans are happy, we are happy, so now let’s move forward for the game against Southampton at Stamford Bridge.”
Alavaro Morata missed the trip to Huddersfield and remains a doubt for the visit of Southampton, while David Luiz is again expected to be missing with a knee problem.
Manuel Pellegrino’s Saints side head to Stamford Bridge on the back of a chastening 4-1 home defeat to Leicester City, managed by former manager Claude Puel.
That undid much of the good work of the previous weekend when they were unfortunate to be held to a draw by Arsenal.
“I think it was a bad game from the beginning until the end,” said Pellegrino.
“When you are not there 100 percent on the game it is difficult to analyse the thing.
“The question is why,” he said, noting that “three days before we showed a completely different face”.
“The good thing when you play bad like the other day and you have another game quickly, then as quick as possible we want to play this game and show another face,” he added.
Pellegrino has a fully fit squad to choose from and is likely to freshen up his side. The manager is also keen to add new faces to his squad in January. — AFP