Antonio Conte has praised Ross Barkley's fitness levels after spending eight months due to undergoing on a hamstring problem, stating he has been pleasantly surprised by the ex-Everton midfielder.
Barkley arrived at Stamford Bridge in a £15 million deal earlier in the transfer window and has since made two appearances from the bench as Conte aims to ease him back into first team football.
The 24-year-old considered a move to west London on transfer deadline day but it collapsed due to his fitness, but Conte is pleased to see him make a rapid return to peak condition.
“No, I thought I'd find a player who was not in good physical condition," Conte said to reporters at Cobham Training Ground. "Instead, I was surprised to find a player in good physical condition. Yes, yes, a positive surprise. You saw that during the Arsenal game. He played.
"He was my first substitution after the Willian injury. My worry is not about his physical condition, but only to go into our idea of football, to understand the movement without the ball and with the ball. For this, he needs a bit of period to go into our idea of football. To understand this.
"My worry is not about his physical condition, but to get into our idea of football. Every player is desperate to play every game. I have to try to make the best decision for the team. Sometimes I'm forced to take decisions.
"But, I repeat, in this case I'm very happy. In my mind I thought that his physical condition was worse than the situation I found (when he came). When you arrive from a bad injury and didn't play for six months, it's not simple to recover very well the best form.
"But my players are working very well and I gave him the chance in the Carabao Cup against Arsenal, maybe because I was forced to do this. In a normal situation, I'd take more time with him. But the player is working very well. The player is working to come into our idea of football.
"Tomorrow I don't know, but tomorrow he could be in contention to play. For sure, we have to put a part of the risk to push the player, to push the player to come into the team quickly. Because we need to do this. When you have Morata and Willian out through injury, we don't have many solutions.
"I'm very happy because the player has great potentiality, and for sure he's changing his way to play. Now he has to think, to think with the ball and without the ball.”
Barkley has 22 caps for England and he was picked for the nation's World Cup squad in 2014, before being left out by Roy Hodgson for Euro 2016.
In fact, Barkley hasn't been selected for England since April in 2016 - but Conte thinks that he can use this platform to break back into the squad.
“There is time. But, at the same time, in every game when you decide to play for a great team, in every game you are in contention with other players," He added. "You have to try and exploit every chance you have to play and show you deserve to play.
"The time is right to find a place in the World Cup (squad), but for sure it won't be easy because, in the England squad, they are very strong. There are strong players in the national team.”
Hull City will play Chelsea in the next round at Stamford Bridge, just days before the Champions League last-16 clash against Barcelona. Conte admits that the draw has been favourable to the Blues as they continue to fight on several fronts.
“It's before the game against Barcelona, Hull," Conte continued. "As you know very well, you can speak about a good draw after the game when you've won and you are through into the next round. Otherwise, this cup is very difficult.
"Every game is very tough. We have to pay great attention also in this game because we want to continue our run in this competition. For sure, this is positive. I must be honest, it's an advantage to play at home.
"You saw in the past that, in the first game against Norwich, we struggled a lot and went through at home. To play at home before the Barcelona game is positive, but positive because we have a great opportunity to go through to the next round with only one game.”