Roberto Martinez has calmed injury fears surrounding Eden Hazard after the in-form Chelsea playmaker went down hurt during Belgium's heavy 2018 World Cup qualifying win over Estonia. The 25-year-old pulled up after 73 minutes of a thumping 8-1 Group H victory in Brussels on Sunday evening (13 November) and quickly signalled to the bench that he needed to be substituted.
That request was promptly granted, with stand-in captain Hazard, who had earlier notched his side's third goal with a rasping right-footed effort that followed a sweeping team move, replaced by Everton's Kevin Mirallas.
Hazard was also seen briefly limping during a 1-1 friendly draw against the Netherlands last Wednesday. However, according to Kristof Terreur from Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws, Martinez stressed after Estonia that the player's latest withdrawal was precautionary and that he had simply received "a knock on the calf".
Chelsea travel to Middlesbrough in the Premier League on Sunday before facing important matches against title rivals Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City over consecutive weekends. Antonio Conte would be devastated to lose former PFA player of the year Hazard, who has bounced back in fine style from a wretched 2015-16 campaign under Jose Mourinho to net 10 goals in just 18 appearances for club and country.
While the recent resurgence at Stamford Bridge that has seen Chelsea win five consecutive top-flight games without conceding has been largely attributed to Conte's switch to his preferred three-man defensive system, Hazard, along with in-form striker Diego Costa, has been at the forefront of a formidable attacking unit that has scored 16 times during that same span.
The ex-Lille midfielder netted in three successive Premier League matches for the first time with goals against Leicester City, Manchester United and Southampton, and looked particularly unstoppable during the recent 5-0 drubbing of Everton. He was treated to a standing ovation on that occasion after terrorising the visiting defence, notching two excellent goals that perfectly showcased his class and grace.
Hazard was not the only Belgian player to sustain an injury this week, with Tottenham midfielder Mousa Dembele, who has recently been suffering from an ankle complaint, permitted to return to White Hart Lane after suffering from what Martinez described as "soft tissue problems". Regular skipper Vincent Kompany also missed both matches after groin discomfort felt in the warm-up led him to be withdrawn from the starting XI in Amsterdam before kick-off. Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, meanwhile, insisted that a lingering eye problem will not force him to miss any time, as he completed the full 90 minutes against Estonia.
Conte could welcome both Kurt Zouma and Cesc Fabregas back to the first-team setup ahead of that long trip north to the Riverside Stadium, although Costa might be a doubt after withdrawing from the Spain squad for matches against Macedonia and England with his own groin issue. Ruben Loftus-Cheek has also returned to Chelsea for treatment on an injury picked up before an U21 clash between France and the Young Lions in Bondoufle on Monday night.