In a surprising bit of team selection, Eden Hazard is set to return to the Chelsea team vs. BATE in the Europa League.

Hazard has been waylaid recently with a back injury, although he only missed one game thanks to the international break. Hazard came off the bench for a game-changing cameo at the weekend against Crystal Palace, and while many expected him to take the week and prepare for the weekend clash with Everton, Sarri has other ideas.

Speaking about Hazard, the Italian said: “In the last match he played 30 minutes, the best for tomorrow is that he plays 45 to 50 minutes.”

Many were no doubt surprised by this and thought could be a risk taking the Belgian all the way to Belarus to play in a game Chelsea didn’t really need to win and, frankly, could probably win without Hazard.

Sarri’s response? “From our doctor there is no risk. Otherwise he stays at Cobham.”

So, there’s definitely no medical risk from playing Hazard against BATE, and Sarri has made it clear that he will play half the match. So the obvious scenario here is that the Belgian will start the game and then be removed at half-time, likely with the game comfortably secured given Hazard’s overwhelming quality as it relates to the standard of opposition.

Which begs the question; just why is Sarri playing him here? Hazard is his side’s key player, one they will certainly need if they are to have any sort of success this season. Why risk him in the Europa League when the Premier League should be the main goal?

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In essence, the usual scenario for times like this is that the key player gets rested. Leo Messi travelled with Barcelona to Inter, a much bigger player than Hazard in a much bigger game than BATE, yet the Argentine didn’t even make the bench. He was rested.

But Sarri’s relationship with rest is different. It seems the Italian coach seems to value momentum just as highly. The idea that rest is obviously useful, but the rhythm of regular games, the idea of building momentum, has its own merits. Fatigue can be overcome through mental focus, essentially. A decidedly unscientific approach, but euphoria has always done strange things to sportspeople.

The big thing with the Europa League is that as it’s played on a Thursday, the lack of rest between that game and weekend fixtures is often less, and so Premier League managers tend to leave their big players out completely. Not Sarri, however. He truly appreciates momentum.

Jorginho, for example, started in Chelsea’s first Europa League game. He played an hour and, with the Blues off to a winning start, hasn’t featured since. Hazard came off the bench at home against Vidi FC. Surprisingly, every Chelsea outfielder bar David Luiz and Danny Drinkwater has played at least once in the Europa League, and Drinkwater hasn’t played at all. Sarri isn’t even playing reserve goalkeeper Willy Caballero, a customary practice for big clubs in the Europa League, preferring to use starter Kepa for every game.

And now instead of building Hazard’s minutes in the Premier League, he’s flying him all the way out to Belarus to make him play 45 minutes. There’s no doubt that the Belgian will play well, but this will give him precious little time to recover before the Everton game this weekend, and moreover, it sets a precedent for the rest of the season.

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One could now reasonably expect Hazard to feature in the Europa League knockout rounds, even though the travel time and lack of rest could prove detrimental to any Chelsea title challenge. Hazard has always struggled with fatigue, and it’s telling that his best and most consistent season came in 2016/17 when he only really played once a week. For the Belgian, rest is perhaps more important than momentum.

Sarri is obviously taking the Europa League somewhat seriously, and that’s a good approach for Chelsea as a club. But for a player as vulnerable to fatigue as Eden Hazard it could be smarter to restrict him to playing strictly Premier League games after this 45-minute outing to help him recover from his back strain.

After all, if Chelsea want him to carry them to greatness this season then it’d probably be good to keep his workload as light as possible.

The post Rest vs. Momentum: how should Sarri use Hazard in the Europa League? appeared first on Squawka News.

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