EDEN HAZARD will make his Stamford Bridge debut for Chelsea against Reading in the Premier League tonight, and his manager believes he has the talent to emulate Blues legend Gianfranco Zola.
While Roberto Di Matteo was cautious not to go overboard after just one competitive game, he suggested Hazard could become a player of the same calibre as Zola. "It's difficult to compare players," he acknowledged. "Gianfranco was a wonderful talent, an artist I would say. Eden might become an artist as well. But, after one game, it's probably a bit too early.
"He had a good start, but it's one game out of 38 in the league.
"It certainly gives him and the others confidence, starting with a new club like that. It was a pleasant day for him.
"He's a talented man, a talented young boy. We'll have to see how he grows into a man, and how quickly he will be an important player for Chelsea."
Hazard started his Chelsea career brilliantly on Sunday, creating both early goals in their 2-0 win at Wigan Athletic.
Having moved from Lille for £32m, he received some unwelcoming tackles from opponents, but Di Matteo insisted he was confident Hazard could take it.
"He'll be fine," the manager said. "I don't have any concerns about that. He's got enough qualities to get away from people."
While Hazard is short at 5ft 7in, Di Matteo said he has a sufficiently robust build to cope with English physicality.
"It's good he got used to it quickly because that's how it's going to be," he said.
"He's a strong man, a strong boy. He's strongly built as well. We spoke during pre-season about the Premier League. He knows how to handle himself."
Hazard may not start in Sunday's role against Brian McDermott's side tonight. "He can play in various positions," Di Matteo said. "He's played a lot on the wing, he's played behind the striker, which is where we started him on Sunday. We have other players in the team, there's good rotation."
Ramires could well come back in after injury, although Marko Marin is out until after the international break. The Brazil midfielder Oscar made his debut at Wigan, but is unlikely to become a regular too quickly.
"We're slowly looking to integrate him," Di Matteo said, "so we need to give him the right time to get used to the team."
Eventually Di Matteo will pick Oscar and Hazard together, but will not rush into pairing the two. "We always have to have a balance in our team as well," he said. "Good players can always play together, that's what I've always believed. But we'll need to work together, to get to know each other a bit better. With the new signings we've brought in, we're certainly going to change a bit."
Reading visit Stamford Bridge in a fixture brought forward due to Chelsea's UEFA Super Cup clash a week on Friday.
Di Matteo welcomed the opportunity to steal a march on the Blues' Premier League title rivals, with a win or draw seeing them go top of the table.
Despite winning the Champions League and FA Cup last season, being league leaders is an honour Chelsea have not enjoyed for quite some time.
"It was in November 2010," Di Matteo said without drawing breath after being asked when his side last led the way.
"We haven't been top for a long, long time. We have the opportunity. Hopefully, we will play a good game and manage to win."
Di Matteo insisted there would be no new arrivals before the match, saying there was "no news" when quizzed over suggestions Cesar Azpilicueta was poised to complete his move from Marseille.