Antonio Conte has reassured concerned supporters that a recent injury sustained by Eden Hazard is not serious. The influential Belgian missed out on Wednesday night (14 December) as Chelsea opened up a six-point gap and ensured that they will be top of the Premier League at Christmas after beating Sunderland at the Stadium of Light to record a 10th successive top-flight victory.
Conte was initially reluctant to discuss injuries during his pre-match press conference on Tuesday and it only emerged yesterday morning that Hazard had not travelled to Wearside as a precaution and was set to be replaced in the starting lineup by Willian. The 25-year-old sustained a knee problem and needed to be substituted after being subjected to a cynical challenge from veteran centre-back Gareth McAuley during a 1-0 win over West Bromwich Albion at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
"Eden got a knock in his knee and now he's injured," Conte explained his team selection to Sky Sports prior to that win in the north-east.
When pressed if the injury was anything to be concerned about, he added: "I don't think [so]. For this game he couldn't play."
Former PFA Player of the Year Hazard has bounced back in fine style under Conte after a dismal 2015-16 campaign by his high standards, scoring eight goals in 18 appearances across all competitions and terrorising opposing defences with a series of impressive displays.
It would have been easy for Chelsea to falter somewhat without their star man, but they dominated the first half against rock-bottom Sunderland and deservedly took the lead when Cesc Fabregas, who continues to be linked with a move away from the club in January, combined nicely with Willian before producing a fine low shot that went through the legs of Papy Djilobodji and nestled neatly inside the far post. That was the Spaniard's first Premier League goal of the season.
A combination of profligate finishing, stubborn Black Cats defending and fine goalkeeping from Jordan Pickford prevented the visitors from extending their lead and only a fine last-gasp save from Thibaut Courtois prevented Patrick van Aanholt from snatching an unlikely point against his former club in second-half stoppage time.
"When you have the possibility to kill the game, you must kill the game," Conte told BBC Sport after the full-time whistle. "We had this possibility but we didn't and at the end Courtois made a good save. It was good, it is important for the future because today we didn't pay but when you have the possibility to kill the game you must kill the game. I hope in the future we can improve."