Marc Wilmots, the Belgium manager, has confirmed Eden Hazard will not start tonight’s friendly against Ivory Coast and is likely to feature for 20 minutes off the bench.
The news will please Jose Mourinho. Ahead of our game at Fulham on Saturday our manager expressed a hope Wilmots would give our young winger, who has featured in every Chelsea game since 9 November, a rest.
Speaking to the Belgian media before his side’s game with Ivory Coast tonight, Wilmots (pictured above with Hazard) said:
‘I am aware of the situation with regards to Eden’s overall fitness, and it could become an issue for the World Cup if Chelsea go all the way in the Champions League.
‘For now, I am happy to accept that we don’t need him starting this game. I am happy with the group of players at my disposal, and Eden will be on the bench. I won’t use him for more than 20 minutes.’
Hazard, meanwhile, has discussed his desire to keep improving on the pitch ahead of a crucial few months for both club and country.
‘Every year I try to progress as a player and being at a club like Chelsea permits me to do that,’ said the 23-year-old.
‘I know my responsibilities. I try to take maximum pleasure when I’m on the pitch and I hope to continue like that so I can reach levels I have not yet reached.
‘I think I had a very good first season in the Premier League but I have been more consistent this year. I think that I can become even better. I am in great shape at the moment and every game I try to do my best to improve my game and to help the team.’
For the second consecutive Wednesday evening Hazard is likely to come up against Didier Drogba, the long-time talisman of an Ivory Coast side preparing for their third World Cup, though it is in a showpiece friendly in Brussels and not a hostile Champions League atmosphere in Istanbul that the pair will renew acquaintances.
‘At Chelsea Didier is a legend and he will remain a legend. I was happy to see him play on TV and now I’m happy to play against him. Ivory Coast have a really good team and it is good for us young players to play against experienced guys like Didier and Yaya Toure. It will be a good game.’