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Mourinho explains not starting Hazard, substituting Loftus-Cheek at half-time

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Clive Mason/Getty Images

The Chelsea starting lineup against Aston Villa contained several surprises.  Like Baba Rahman, forgotten man suddenly not forgotten!  But perhaps even more surprising was Jose Mourinho leaving Eden Hazard on the bench.  While the winger certainly hasn't come close to replicating his Player of the Year form from last season, his exclusion was still hardly expected.  Especially when other subpar performers like Cesc Fabregas or John Terry were included.

After the 2-0 win, Mourinho explained his decision thusly.

"Hazard was left out because we are conceding lots of goals."

"To defend better we need midfield to be worried just with central area of the pitch - not to be worried about compensation on the left or right and playing with Pedro and Willian means the midfield players don’t have to look to left or right because they know that they control very well."

"They did amazing defensive work - the allow midfield to be comfortable and to have performances like Ramires and Fabregas controlling centre of the pitch so it was just a tactical decision.  Leaving super quality on bench but bringing tactical discipline and hoping that the team would be solid."

-Jose Mourinho; source: Get West London

I guess we're back to this old nugget then.  Hazard has responded to a similar challenge before, and I'm sure he will do the same again now.   (It's not like Pedro has excelled in his defensive, or offensive work for that matter, since his excellent debut for Chelsea.)

"I told the players that this is not a moment to think about themselves or personal situation or moan or try to be selfish in approach."

"This is a moment for the team - just the team and nothing else. I asked them exactly that - to look at the picture in a different way to our normal situation where I have to make decisions to try and bring results and when they are back and we have better stability in our confidence levels then we go back to what we are."

-Jose Mourinho; source: Get West London

Probably not the last we hear of this Mourinho vs. Hazard story.  (Conflict! Crisis! Feud! Real Madrid!)

Another key tactical decision on Saturday was starting young Ruben Loftus-Cheek instead of the struggling Nemanja Matic.  Except, for some reason, Loftus-Cheek ended up playing more of a no.10 rather than in the pivot, which apparently contributed to this withdrawal at half-time.

"I wanted more solidity in midfield. He is a solid, stable, mature player with fantastic in vision and the he analyse games and decisions in the game but without ball cannot compare tactically to others and in this moment one decision in favour of stability and control."

-Jose Mourinho; source: Get West London

Matic dropped deep next to Ramires, while Fabregas pushed forward into the attacking band.  While I suppose this wasn't the craziest decision, I'm sure many would've liked to see Loftus-Cheek continue on.  Hopefully, he'll get plenty more chances in the upcoming weeks and months.

All that said, the decisions made by the manager paid off, as Chelsea finally registered a win!