Belfast Telegraph

Hazard is the best player in England, maintains Mourinho

By Matt McGeehan

Jose Mourinho is unequivocal in his support of Eden Hazard and has again insisted there are no fractures in relationships at Chelsea.

The Blues' worst start in 29 years has led to speculation of rifts within the camp, which Mourinho has strenuously denied, while Hazard has struggled to reach the same heights as last season.

The Belgian was the Premier League champions' most eye-catching player last year and remains the competition's leading performer ahead of today's clash with Arsenal, says his manager.

"He's the best player in England," said Mourinho.

"He is the best and he will be the best again. I don't know if it will be tomorrow or next week."

The mood has improved at Chelsea since Wednesday night's Champions League win over Maccabi Tel Aviv, but Mourinho is adamant the talk of a crisis is wrong ahead of the visit of long-time rival Arsene Wenger.

The Portuguese listed a series of headlines and again denied Steven Gerrard's suggestion of a fallout with captain John Terry.

"I don't have any problem with any one of my players," Mourinho said. "Normally when bad results happen the first thing that comes into your laptops, iPads and pens is to find a dramatic story: 'Somebody punched somebody in the dressing room', 'The manager doesn't want to speak with this guy'.

"You (the media) always go in this direction, which is funny. The other direction you don't go in is the direction which is real.

"You lose matches, you are affected, you lose confidence, you don't want the ball."

Gerrard's comments came during his role as a BT Sport pundit for the Maccabi Tel Aviv tie, which began with a Hazard penalty which was blazed over.

"Maybe it was an agreement he did with some sponsor to promote the Rugby World Cup," added Mourinho, who is happy for Hazard to continue spot-kick duties.

"He's the best penalty taker in this country too. He is my first option."

Based on previous comments made by Mourinho, a handshake is likely to be offered to Wenger pre-match.

The Frenchman, who shoved Mourinho in last October's clash at Stamford Bridge, evaded his rival at Wembley when finally ending his 13-match winless run in the Community Shield.

Mourinho was coy on the subject.

"I don't think it's important now and I don't think people are focused on that. I think people are focused on what happens on the pitch," Mourinho said.

Chelsea are 17th in the standings after their miserable start of four points from five matches, 11 adrift of leaders Manchester City.

But Mourinho is ignoring everything other than the Gunners. He said: "It's just Chelsea-Arsenal and it's a match that we want to win."

Petr Cech returns after leaving for North London following 11 years of sterling service at Chelsea.

Mourinho added: "He's an Arsenal goalkeeper until the game ends. When the game ends, if he wants to come to our dressing room, the door will be open for him."

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph