Antonio Conte made two massive changes to the team from recent games, one that we had all been hoping for and one that took most by surprise.
The expected change was the return of N’Golo Kanté, finally recovered from his hamstring injury, which unsurprisingly made Chelsea’s midfield not only competent but dominant once again. The unexpected change was the start given to young Andreas Christensen, with David Luiz dropping to the bench.
We had surmised this was possibly due to injury — he had been playing with heavy wrapping on his knee once again, and at least one source listed him as ‘doubtful’ for this match — while others immediately jumped on the palpable discord bandwagon. But both before and after the game, Conte stuck a far simpler explanation: form.
“No, no [there is no row]. Tactical decision. There is [Andreas] Christensen in really good form and also we have [Ethan] Ampadu who is a good young player. The club like to play with the young player.”
-Antonio Conte; source: Telegraph
This hasn’t stopped and isn’t likely to stop speculation that there had been a row — Conte vs. Costa comes to mind, which was brushed off as nothing important at the time, but took on greater significance later — but Conte stuck to the tactical narrative after the match as well.
Conte on Luiz comments: "It's very simple. The coach has to make the best decision for the team & tonight it was Christensen & Ampadu" #cfc— Liam Twomey (@liam_twomey) November 5, 2017
Conte on Luiz: "Maybe in the future I can continue in this way or decide a different way. It's normal" #cfc— Liam Twomey (@liam_twomey) November 5, 2017
Conte on Luiz: "It's only a tactical decision. It's normal & this can happen to every one of players if I see they aren't in good form" #cfc— Liam Twomey (@liam_twomey) November 5, 2017
Conte maintains David Luiz dropped was "only a tactical decision... only a tactical decision. Every decision, I have to put my face."— Miguel Delaney (@MiguelDelaney) November 5, 2017
Obviously, Conte would never reveal if there was any actual discord. But the fact that David Luiz wasn’t even on the bench could certainly point to something more going on behind the scenes. Perhaps Conte’s just making an example out of the veteran defender, to reassert control and ensure that stuff like that second half at Roma doesn’t happen again. Or maybe it is truly just David Luiz being in poor form and thus getting a short rest — “he has to work” like everyone else, reminded the Chelsea boss after the game in the tunnel interview.
Most importantly, Conte’s decision paid off handsomely today. Christensen was excellent and he continues to be the next shining example of Chelsea’s youth and loan system working as intended.
Conte: "I think Christensen played an amazing game & I'm happy for this" #cfc— Liam Twomey (@liam_twomey) November 5, 2017
Conte said just recently Luiz was his best defender. What has happened? Conte: "It can change."— Dan Levene (@danlevene) November 5, 2017