Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho has revealed that Kevin de Bruyne stands a chance of working his way back into the first-team.
The Belgian had been tipped to go out on loan in January after failing to establish himself in the Chelsea first-team ahead of the likes of Oscar, Juan Mata and Eden Hazard.
The Belgian was handed a start on the opening day of the season against Hull, but soon fell out of favour with Mourinho who lambasted him for a perceived lack of effort in a League Cup tie against Swindon in October.
He returned for Chelsea a month later and featured in their last two Champions League games in November as a substitute, but hasn't featured in the Premier League since the win over Fulham in September.
The 22-year-old could be in contention to make a league appearance for the Blues against Sunderland this evening, and Mourinho says he is likely to be handed more chances to prove his worth after turning things around in training.
"Kevin is showing desire and working very hard," said Mourinho. "I feel sorry for not giving him big opportunities up to now, but he's working better than ever.
"He's sad when he's not selected or playing, but he's working professionally which, for me, was a change from the beginning. When he works the way he is, he has to have a chance.
"He is selected [in the squad] for the Sunderland game on Wednesday, and he has a block of matches ahead and has to make a mark in them. I like him as a player. I've learned now how to like him, also, as a kid.
"He's a good kid and he's showing he's a good professional. Hopefully I can give him enough time on the pitch so he decides to stay in a happy way.
De Bruyne spent last season on loan in Germany with Werder Bremen and was a target for Borussia Dortmund over the summer; however Chelsea refused to sell up, prompting suggestions Mourinho may have had him earmarked for a first-team spot.
That hasn't been the case and the Chelsea youngster is still likely to go out on loan in the winter window.
According to the Guardian a January loan move could still be on the cards, and De Bruyne's agent is expected to meet the club before Christmas to determine his future.
"I understand he needs to play a bit more, but he's in an area of the pitch where we have more options," added Mourinho. "I'm speaking with him and we're working a bit on that: he can also play as a midfielder when we play with an open triangle.
"He's done that at Werder Bremen, so hopefully we can find more options for Kevin to play, because I like the player very much.
"Any player who wants to speak with me and the club ... they deserve that respect. But the club is No1. It comes first. The players come after the club. We have to protect the club and understand that we have lots of matches to play until the end of the season, and lots of things can happen.
"We'll be playing four competitions at the same time if we get through to the next round of the Capital One Cup, so we'll need a big squad."
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