Eden Hazard can go 'to another level' in Champions League - Conte
MADRID -- Antonio Conte says Eden Hazard can move to "another level" in the Champions League with Chelsea this season, despite previously struggling to make a major impact in the competition.
Hazard will face Atletico Madrid in Wednesday's Group C clash at the Wanda Metropolitano having scored just five goals in 31 previous Champions League appearances for Chelsea.
The Belgian has twice inspired the Stamford Bridge club to the Premier League title since arriving from Lille in 2012, but he remains an enigma on the biggest stage. Chelsea manager Conte is confident, however, that the 26-year-old is now ready to show his class in the Champions League.
"I think last season, Eden played a really important season, played very well and was very important for us in winning the league," Conte told a news conference. "Last season, he showed in every game great talent, to be a really good player. A top player.
"I think this competition is very important for him, but I think it's important for the team, too. This competition brings you to another level and I think he has all the possibilities to do this. He's a really top player.
"Now he's totally fit and in contention for the game, I think it's the right moment."
Chelsea face Atletico having agreed to sell Diego Costa to the Spanish club when their FIFA-imposed transfer ban ends in January.
Conte and Costa fell out spectacularly following last season's title triumph, with Costa told by the Italian by text that he had no future at the club. Costa's self-imposed exile in Brazil, where he remained after refusing to return to training at Chelsea, deepened the ill-feeling between the two men, but with the prospect of the pair meeting in the stadium on Wednesday, the Chelsea boss insists he will shake Costa's if he sees him.
"As I said before, I have no problem with Diego Costa," Conte said. "I said that we wish, for him, the best for the future. "We want to thank him for the last season. But, I repeat, I have no problem with him."
Conte, meanwhile, admitted that Chelsea face a stern test of their credentials against Diego Simeone's Atletico at their stadium.
"For us, it's very important to go playing game by game," Conte said. "It's time to play a really tough game against Atletico Madrid. For sure, it's an important game for us and very important to play this type of game: away against one of the best teams in the Champions League.
"I think it's the right moment also to understand where we are." "We played against Qarabag, played a really good game and won. Tomorrow is an important game for both teams, for sure.
"We have great respect for Atletico Madrid. They showed in the last few years that they are a really strong team and they have a good experience to play this competition.
"We have to try and do our best in this competition. We know very well that, last season, we didn't play in it, but this season we have great enthusiasm, great desire to show we deserve to play this competition."
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_