LONDON • Chelsea manager Antonio Conte has refused to confirm a report that star forward Eden Hazard has rejected a new deal.
The Belgium international continues to be linked with a move to Real Madrid despite his Stamford Bridge contract expiring only in 2020. And speculation of a move to the Santiago Bernabeu intensified after Hazard's father Thierry told Le Soir that the 26-year-old turned down a contract extension.
"What I can say about Eden is that he refused an extension of (his) contract to be able, if necessary, to follow the interest of Real, where he would see himself well," he told Belgian newspaper Le Soir.
When Conte was asked about those comments during his press conference ahead of today's Premier League clash against Stoke, the Italian said: "My answer is always the same. This is a private conversation between the club, the player and his agent.
"I'm proud to have him in my team, in my squad and I'm very happy to work with him."
Hazard has scored eight goals in all competitions this season while striker Alvaro Morata will go into the weekend with 12 goals in all competitions, including a hat-trick against Stoke in September.
Conte is delighted with Morata's contribution, but is also mindful that this was his first experience of a hectic festive period, with the same applying to fellow new recruits Antonio Rudiger and Tiemoue Bakayoko.
"It's the first time they've played at Christmas," he said. "It's not simple, but this atmosphere is great.
"It's a busy period for us, but it started in November and will continue through January and February."
The champions have won their last six league matches at Stamford Bridge while Stoke have not won any of the 11 games they have played there since becoming a top-flight club in 2008.
It will not get any easier for the Potters, with Stoke manager Mark Hughes facing a defensive crisis.
Skipper Ryan Shawcross injured his calf in Tuesday's 1-1 draw with Huddersfield and Bruno Martins Indi is out with a groin injury.
On-loan France international Kurt Zouma is ineligible to play against his parent club while former Chelsea defender Glen Johnson is out with a knee injury.
"We are in a really difficult position and we may be forced into calling upon a couple of our younger players, who will have to come in and do a job for us," Hughes said. "It is going to be a big ask because even with our best 11, this would be incredibly tough, but we must be positive and give it a real good go."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
CHELSEA V STOKE
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