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MAURIZIO SARRI has lauded Eden Hazard as Europe’s best as the forward’s long-term future at Chelsea remains shrouded in doubt.
Hazard this week admitted to having made a decision on his future, with his Chelsea contract expiring in June 2020 and amid repeated links with a £100 million summer move to Real Madrid.
Speaking in advance of today’s Premier League clash at Manchester City, Chelsea head coach Sarri was asked if he was aware of Hazard’s choice.
“I speak every day with Eden, but I speak with Eden about his position on the pitch,” said Sarri, who has previously admitted he does not expect Hazard’s final decision to be known until the summer.
“I will be really very happy with him if he will want to stay, because in my opinion he’s the best in Europe.
“But it’s up to him, I think. I want to see him happy. And so, he has to decide.”
Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo of Juventus clearly have more pedigree than Hazard, but Sarri may have been talking about the Belgian in the context of his position on the left wing.
Hazard was deployed as a “false nine” in December when Chelsea beat City 2-0, ending a 21-game unbeaten league run for Pep Guardiola’s side.
Chelsea now have Gonzalo Higuain, on loan from Juventus, to play as the attacking focal point. The Argentina striker and Hazard performed well in last week’s 5-0 win over Huddersfield, showing signs of a promising partnership.
“He’s a great player and I think he’s very useful for Eden,” Sarri added.
Chelsea were “lucky” in the December win at Stamford Bridge, the 60-year-old Italian added.
And Sarri insisted his side are not in the Premier League title race, contrary to a suggestion from City counterpart Guardiola earlier this week.
City entered the weekend at the top of the table on goal difference from Liverpool, with both sides 12 points clear of Chelsea entering this weekend’s fixtures.
Sarri said: “I think we will be able to fight for the top four this season. No more, I think.
“We can win something of course, but in the Premier League there is a fight between Liverpool and Man City. At the moment Man City is the best team in Europe.
“I think we were lucky [in December], because we scored in a very difficult moment of the match.
“In that match we defended really very well because they had only three goal opportunities, no more.
“It’s not easy against Man City to give them only three, four opportunities.
“At home, I think they’ve scored 43 goals in 13 matches. More than three on average. We need to defend really very well.”
Sarri says he meets Guardiola socially in the off-season, alongside Arrigo Sacchi, the former AC Milan boss.
“We have a good relationship. Very, very good,” Sarri said. “I hope he speaks very well about me as a coach, as a friend.
“Usually we learn from Arrigo Sacchi because Arrigo is always with us. So it’s very interesting to speak to Arrigo.”
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