After rotating almost the entire team in the third and fourth rounds of the FA Cup, Antonio Conte decided to field a slightly more conservative lineup against Wolves in the fifth round.
The big surprise were the front trio, featuring both Eden Hazard and Diego Costa alongside Willian, while Pedro and Moses lined up as wing-backs. Pedro has made a habit of playing that position in the cup lately, but it’s still a bold choice given his long history of playing anything but a position that has such defensive responsibilities — and facing Wolves’ big star Hélder Costa was certainly going to be the biggest challenge for any Chelsea defender on the day.
For Conte, this was an important experiment however, both in terms of playing a different wing-back configuration than the usual Moses-Alonso combo, and in terms of getting Costa back on the goalscoring path. And of course, the name of the game is winning, which he did make a point to mention ahead of the game as well, setting the stage for not starting Batshuayi and Loftus-Cheek.
“I think that today it was important to continue to play with Costa, Willian and Hazard. I repeat, do not forget our target is to win, not to try to make all the players happy.”
“It's important to make all the right choices because for Diego it was very important to play, to score. The same for Hazard and Willian. It was very important for me to find a new solution with the two wingers as wing-backs.”
“I repeat, it's important to find the best solution, then, why not the next game, Ruben or Michy can start. I made nine changes in the first and second games, today I made seven changes. I tried to make the best decision to win the game. When we have the quarter final, I'll decide the line-up.”
-Antonio Conte; source: Goal
Certainly one of the key factors for the lineup decisions on Saturday was that unlike the previous rounds, Chelsea had a free week before and after as well. This will apply to the quarterfinal, too, which we now know will be against Manchester United. Chances are, Conte will opt for an even more first-choice lineup on that occasion.