Guus Hiddink has defended the performance of Eden Hazard during Chelsea's narrow 2-1 defeat in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 clash away to Paris Saint-Germain on 16 February, but concedes that the sheer intensity of the match prevented him from completing 90 minutes as he continues his return from injury.
The Belgium international, who earlier this week reignited long-running speculation linking him with a possible move to the French capital by admitting that he would find it hard to reject PSG, has failed to replicate his previously stellar form in 2015/16. In addition to scoring just one goal in all competitions, he also suffered a groin problem during the opening stages of a 3-0 win at Crystal Palace in January.
This week's trip to the Parc des Princes was just Hazard's third start since early January and the player lasted 71 minutes before being replaced by Oscar, who himself missed last weekend's demolition of Newcastle United with a slight calf issue. The 25-year-old was subsequently criticised by supporters and pundits alike for yet another ineffectual display, although Hiddink chose to focus on the positives and insisted that better performances will come as he returns to full fitness.
"He was a threat going forward and he had some good runs, but of course this was a game with a high intensity," Hiddink told BT Sport Europe after the full-time whistle. "After 65, 70 minutes it was enough for him.
"He has to grow and when he does, his shape will grow as well. Happily we also have Oscar for his position. He will be better and better."
Chelsea's loss to PSG was the first suffered under Hiddink since he returned to the club for his second interim spell in charge following the controversial dismissal of Jose Mourinho in December.
With John Terry missing the tie due to a hamstring injury, the visitors partnered Branislav Ivanovic with Gary Cahill at centre-back and included new signing Matt Miazga in the matchday squad for the first time since his January switch from the New York Red Bulls. U21 regular Jake Clarke-Salter also travelled as cover.
Terry, out of contract this summer, was withdrawn in the first half against Newcastle after coming off the worse following a challenge with Aleksandar Mitrovic. He initially looked likely to feature against PSG after training at Cobham on Monday (15 February). The decision was later made not to risk him, however, and Hiddink has now warned against the dangers of rushing the captain back to first-team action too early. Chelsea host Manchester City in the fifth round of the FA Cup on 21 February before visiting Southampton in the Premier League six days later.
"We'll see," the Dutchman added. "We must be careful. We must not go into a situation where he will drop back into a longer period of injury."