Chelsea manager Antonio Conte has warned Eden Hazard must be given time to regain full-match fitness after his delayed start to the 2017-18 season.

Hazard, 26, underwent ankle surgery during the summer, making his first appearances of the season for Belgium during the recent international break, managing 93 minutes in total across two qualifiers against Gibraltar and Greece.

He played the final 12 minutes of Chelsea's 2-1 victory over Leicester City on Saturday (9 September), coming off the bench to replace Cesc Fabregas as the defending champions moved to within a point of early leaders Manchester United.

Reports last week had suggested Conte will opt to carefully manage Hazard's return to the first-team with huge Premier League clashes against Arsenal (17 September) and Manchester City (30 September) looming and a Champions League meeting against Atletico Madrid sandwiched in between.

Suggesting Hazard still has some way to go before he is back to his peak condition, Conte has called for patience. "This is good news for us," Conte said following Hazard's return. "For sure he needs time to be 100 percent for us his but his recovery is very important.

"We are know very well the importance of Hazard for us. Now we must have patience to give him the possibility to improve his form, but I am pleased for him because after a bad injury it is great to see him with us."

Since losing their opening match of the season to Burnley at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea have gone onto win their next three fixtures with record signing Alvaro Morata taking his tally to three goals for the campaign at the King Power Stadium on Saturday.

The Blues begin their Champions League campaign at home to Qarabağ of Azerbaijan ahead of the visit of Arsene Wenger's side on Sunday.

Eden Hazard
Hazard returned to the Blues squad on Saturday. Reuters