Di Matteo: Hazard can be Chelsea's artist
Hazard only made his Premier League debut on Sunday but such was his impact against Wigan that the £32 million man is already being tipped to be one of the stars of this season and beyond. Manager Di Matteo warned against making snap judgments about the 21-year-old playmaker but admitted he could see similarities with Zola, who he starred alongside for both Chelsea and Italy during the 1990s.
He said: "It's difficult to compare players. Gianfranco was a wonderful talent, an artist I would say. Eden might become an artist as well. 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."
Di Matteo was right to play down comparisons between someone who has made two appearances for Chelsea and a man often voted the club's best player of all time.But an assist less than two minutes into your Premier League debut and another five minutes later made for an outstanding start, and his manager believes there is even more to come.
"It was great to see him enjoying himself as well, and getting his teeth into the Premier League," he said. "You're never quite sure how the new players will adapt, and I'm sure it will take him a bit of time to get used to the physicality and tempo of the Premier League."
Sunday was a crash course in both for Hazard, who afterwards shrugged off being the victim of more than one crude challenge. Di Matteo said: "It's good he got used to it quickly because that's how it's going to be.
"He's a strong man, a strong boy. Strongly built as well. It will certainly help him. We spoke during pre-season about the Premier League. He's a young man but he already has a lot of experience in terms of playing games. He knows how to handle himself."
Di Matteo insisted kicking Hazard was "not the way" to stop him anyway and even warned of the perils of doubling up on the Belgium star. "It will free up some space for other positions if they double-mark him."
That could include fellow new boy Oscar, who made his Chelsea debut as a replacement for Hazard on Sunday. Both delivered the kind of flair the European champions' billionaire owner, Roman Abramovich, has long craved and the pair could yet star in the same side.
Di Matteo is obsessed about finding the right "balance" between attack and defence but said: "Good players can always play together. That's what I've always believed. We'll need time to work together, get to know each other a bit better."
If you are only as good as your last game, Hazard will have three days to revel in Sunday's display before being challenged to do it all over again on his home debut tomorrow. 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 UEFA 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 protracted move from Marseille.