ANTONIO CONTE has warned Chelsea to hand new contracts to Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois before the World Cup makes them even bigger targets.
By Cliff Anderson
Chelsea’s Belgian duo will present England with their greatest danger at the World Cup next summer but, by the time the tournament comes round, Courtois will have only one year left on his contract, Hazard two – and they will be ripe for picking by the world’s biggest clubs if they shine in Russia.
Talks on new deals for the pair have been mooted for some time but, after watching Hazard tear Newcastle apart with two goals at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, Conte wants things sorted out as soon as possible.
Hazard has now scored eight goals in his last 10 games and Conte said: “Yes, I want them to sign new deals. You are talking about two great players.
“Thibaut is one of the best goalkeepers in the world. Maybe the best. And then there is Eden. The club knows the importance of these two players and they are happy to play for this club.
“I will be very happy when they can have this deal. These two are great players because they have a lot of space for improvement. They are very young and it will be great to keep them with us.
“The World Cup is the best tournament in the world. You can show your skills and show that you are a top player.”
But Conte went to add his belief that Hazard has much room for improvement. “I don’t think that Eden is at the peak of his career,” said the Chelsea manager.
“He has a lot of improvement to make. He is young and it is important for him to work, work, work to improve himself.
“You are at the top when you win the Ballon d’Or the first time, when you win the Champions League, when you win the Word Cup.
“At that moment you are at the top of the world – a great player.”
Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez knew all about Hazard from his seven months in charge at the club in 2012-13. But his Newcastle team simply did not have the quality to subdue the Belgian.
They started well, however, capitalising on hesitation in the Chelsea defence as Marcos Alonso blundered, to take an 11th-minute lead through Dwight Gayle.
But Chelsea – and Hazard – soon got going and the Belgian equalised soon after. And Chelsea were ahead when Victor Moses crossed for Alvaro Morata to nod home.
When Matt Ritchie brought down Moses in the area, up stepped Hazard to notch his second goal of the game with a cheeky Panenka-style chip – on the great Czech player Antonin’s birthday.
Moses said: “Eden is a world-class player in top form. He’s enjoying his football and doing some amazing stuff. It’s going to be hard work for England to stop him in Russia.”
Benitez added: “We knew from day one that we would be in the bottom half. It’s not a surprise.
“Will January be a big month for us? I have no idea. Is there enough quality to stay up? We have to improve but I think so.”