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Eden Hazard, Mateo Kovacic in line to start for Chelsea at Newcastle

LONDON -- Eden Hazard and Mateo Kovacic could make their first Chelsea starts against Newcastle on Sunday, head coach Maurizio Sarri confirmed.

Both men came off the substitutes' bench to make a decisive impact as Chelsea beat Arsenal 3-2 at Stamford Bridge last Saturday, with Hazard creating the winning goal for Marcos Alonso and Kovacic completing all of his 43 attempted passes in an energetic cameo.

Asked if Hazard will start against Newcastle, Sarri said: "I don't know. I think that Eden is ready for 50-60 minutes. I don't know for 90 minutes, but he can start.

"I am happy with him. He wants to play. I think it's the right way to think for him. But I have to think for everybody.

"I think Mateo and Eden played very well in the last 30 minutes, but I think also that, in that moment, the intensity of the match was going down. But I think, like Eden, Mateo is ready to play for 60 or 65 minutes."

Sarri also reiterated that there is no chance of Hazard leaving Stamford Bridge for Real Madrid before the close of the Spanish transfer window on Aug. 31.

"I am the coach of a very good team," he said. "I am the coach of a very great club. And so I think that such an important club cannot sell a very important player without the possibility of buying another very important player at the same level. So I think that Eden will stay with us for all the season."

Maurizio Sarri of Chelsea faces the press on Friday.
Maurizio Sarri faces the press at Cobham on Friday.

Kovacic's inclusion in the Chelsea matchday squad against Arsenal came at the expense of Ruben Loftus-Cheek, prompting fresh speculation that the academy graduate could leave Stamford Bridge on loan in search of more regular first-team opportunities this month.

"I have spoken with him twice this week, after I spoke with the club," Sarri said. "So I think that Loftus-Cheek will remain with us. We can speak again about his situation, but I think only in December."

Sarri has taken six points from his first two Premier League matches, despite his team exhibiting startling defensive flaws and conceding two goals in what their head coach described as a "horrible" 15-minute spell late in the first half against Arsenal.

These defensive lapses have not been enough to dull Sarri's optimism that his players will adapt to his ideas, though he warned he will not be able to change his system in the manner that predecessor Antonio Conte did when he made a spectacularly successful shift to a 3-4-3 formation two years ago and won the Premier League title.

"My feeling is that, in this team, I have very intelligent players," he said. "So they can improve in one month, I think. I think they will be able to do it very well in one or two months. No more.

"I am not able to play with five defenders, because we are trying to defend by looking only at the ball. In this way, if I defend with five defenders, I lose immediately metres on the pitch. I am not able. I tried five years ago, but it's not my way."


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