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Hazard: European return has made Chelsea’s title defence more difficult

Blues boss Antonio Conte has found his position under scrutiny.

Eden Hazard feels it was always going to prove difficult for Chelsea to mount a successful Premier League title defence on their return to Europe.

Blues boss Antonio Conte has found his position under scrutiny in the wake of successive defeats, with Monday’s 4-1 loss at Watford leaving them 19 points behind leaders Manchester City.

The players are set to return to training at Cobham on Friday after three days off as focus switches to Monday’s league visit of West Brom to Stamford Bridge.

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Chelsea slumped to a 4-1 loss at Watford, which was a second straight Premier League defeat (Adam Davy/PA Wire)

Belgium midfielder Hazard accepts it has been a testing season for the Blues, who nevertheless remain in the top four of the Premier League, are through to the FA Cup fifth round and will soon face Barcelona in their Champions League last-16 tie.

“I think the Premier League is difficult. It is hard to win every year,” Hazard said to ESPN FC.

“Last year we didn’t have the Champions League. This year we have less time to be ready for the games. Every week there are three games.”

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Eden Hazard had scored an equaliser at Watford before Chelsea conceded three late goals (Adam Davy/PA Wire)

Despite Chelsea’s inconsistencies, Hazard believes the unpredictability of the English top flight – which has recently seen Bournemouth win 3-0 at Stamford Bridge and relegation battlers Swansea defeat both Arsenal and Liverpool – is what makes it such an attractive competition.

“That’s why we love football – if there is only one team that wins it would be boring. That’s why football is special,” the midfielder added.

“You never know what’s going to happen, especially in England.”

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Antonio Conte

Former Barcelona boss Luis Enrique and Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone have both been linked with Conte’s job.

Press Association Sport, however, understands that there was no board meeting on Tuesday to discuss the manager’s future and the club’s position remains unchanged.

Chelsea are expected to hold a press conference on Friday to preview the West Brom game, and the Italian’s future is likely to again be brought up.

Reports in Spain suggest Enrique is the leading candidate should Chelsea look to make a change at the end of the season, although Conte still has 18 months of his contract to run.

Current Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde, however, cannot see why Conte is facing such speculation, given his achievements after arriving at Stamford Bridge in the summer of 2016.

“Chelsea’s head coach is the one who led them to last year’s Premier League title – one of many titles he has won throughout a great career,” Valverde said when the subject was raised at a Barcelona press conference ahead of the Copa del Rey tie at Valencia. “There is not too much to think about.”

Chelsea, meanwhile, have confirmed details of a pre-season friendly in Australia against Perth Glory on July 23, shortly after the World Cup final.

Chairman Bruce Buck said on the club’s official website that Chelsea “will be taking a strong squad” for the match at Optus Stadium, with the new Premier League season set to kick off on August 11.

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