Roberto Martinez will not rush Eden Hazard back into Belgium’s starting line-up and says Kevin De Bruyne looks “fresh” and “ready” for Euro 2020.
Hazard has been blighted by injuries since joining Real Madrid from Chelsea two years ago and there have been concerns over his fitness for the European Championship.
The winger gave the Red Devils a lift on Sunday, though, making his first international appearance for 19 months as a late substitute in a 1-0 victory over Croatia.
Belgium boss Martinez will be patient with Hazard, who looks set to be on the bench for the Group B opener against Russia at Saint Petersburg Stadium on Saturday.
The Spaniard said: “I think the target for Eden was to be on the pitch and I think that was almost a psychological step. You need to be on the pitch, in a match scenario and it doesn’t matter the minutes.
“It wasn’t the case Eden needs to play bigger chunks of time on the pitch but I think the next step now will be in training to try to get the match intensity, but I was very pleased in the way that Eden came on, affected the pace of the because it’s very hard to come on as a substitute to adapt to the pace of the game.
“It was a needed step, it wasn’t about the minutes, it was about being able to do make that step without risk, in a safe manner and that is what we did.”
Martinez is unsure when Hazard will be in a position to play an entire game, but says that is not essential.
He added: “I think it will be difficult to tell when he will be ready. It will depend on a lot of things; how the game goes, what is the scoreline, how demanding the game can be in and out of possession.
“What is important is now he is medically fit and now we have a good build-up of five days before the Russia game and then it will be about quality.
“It’s not going to be about playing minutes, it’s going to be about being able to see Eden Hazard with a big smile on his face and when he’s on the pitch he can make the difference.
“I’m not too concerned about the minutes and I think it’s a different approach, it’s a tournament where we need to think we have five substitutes. It’s not a lot about the starting XI, it’s about every player when he’s on the pitch can make a contribution.
“Five substitutes means almost 50 per cent of the outfield players can almost share the minutes, so I think that approach is going to be very important in this tournament.”
— Kevin De Bruyne (@DeBruyneKev) June 7, 2021
Midfielder De Bruyne linked up with the Belgium squad on Monday as he recovers from the fractured nose and left orbital he suffered in Manchester City’s Champions League final loss to Chelsea.
Martinez will take no risks with De Bruyne against Russia but gave a positive update on the playmaker’s condition after he underwent surgery.
“Kevin De Bruyne has joined the group and that’s fantastic news,” said the former Everton manager. “He looks ready, he looks fresh and just for him walking into the dining room was a real highlight of the day.
“He watched the game [against Croatia] and he’s already in the mood of the team and is looking forward to slowly taking his own pace with the medical team. But it makes a big difference when he’s with the players and is part of the group.”
Asked how De Bruyne’s recovery is going, Martinez replied: “Very well, the medical intervention went extremely well. It’s still a very fresh one, so will take a few days, but the initial reaction has been really positive and he seems ready. He’s looking more forwards than backwards.”
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