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Conte defends latest abject Bakayoko performance despite half-time substitution

Conte, as ever, defends his players in public.

West Ham United v Chelsea - Premier League Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images

There must always be a scapegoat. It is known.

Many have taken a turn. Mikel was legendary in that role, almost as much as he was a legend with his midfield prowess. Bosingwa, Ivanović, Cahill, Fàbregas, Costa, Hazard, Willian just some of the names that come immediately to mind. That’s certainly not an exhaustive list; at one point or another, all players have done their bit. In the world of immediate gratification where perspective is often lost or ignored or deemed surplus to requirements, that’s just how things go.

The latest on that long list of terrible, decent, good, and amazing players is Tiemoué Bakayoko, who’s fallen drastically out of form after starting his Chelsea career with a heroic half-fit shift against Spurs and built on that for a while despite never quite recovering from his summertime knee injury. At one point, Bakayoko started 11 of 12 games, and even after it was revealed that he was still affected by his injury, he’s continued to play at a regular clip. Part of that’s been due to injuries to other midfielders (Kanté missing a month, Drinkwater unable to play the first couple months, etc), though part of it is also down to the coach’s decisions.

It was a combination of the two that saw Bakayoko in the lineup once again on Saturday, with Drinkwater falling ill midway through the week and unable to play. Or perhaps Conte was always going to play Bakayoko. Either way, the 23-year-old lasted just 45 minutes after yet another ineffective, listless performance as well as partial culpability for West Ham’s goal.

Conte is of course not a coach to throw any of his players under the bus publicly, so after the game, he explained the decision to withdraw the big man at half as purely tactical.

“It was a tactical decision because I think Bakayoko was playing a good game. But when you find 11 players behind the ball and you are losing 1-0 it is important to change something to find a different solution.”

“In this case Pedro has different characteristics to Bakayoko. He’s better one-v-one, he’s a more technical player. To lose a physical player it wasn’t important after the first half. But it was only a tactical decision. The player satisfied me with his performance.”

-Antonio Conte; source: Metro

Conte already went from rating the performance “good” to just “satisfactory” within a couple sentences, so it’s unlikely that this is anything more than just a simple attempt to shield the player from further criticism. It probably won’t be effective, but it’s commendable nonetheless. While Pedro does indeed provide a different attacking thrust, his introduction didn’t change the team’s shape and West Ham’s tactics should not have been surprising in the least bit — had Bakayoko actually imposed himself physically, it might have made a difference.

In any case, it’s far too early to write him of course — surely as Chelsea fans we’ve seen how writing off young players early can backfire later — but still, he probably needs a couple games on the bench...

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