Antonio Conte insisted that dropping David Luiz from his squad for Chelsea’s 1-0 win over Manchester United was purely a “tactical decision” and praised Andreas Christensen’s “amazing” performance in place of the Brazilian.
Alvaro Morata’s 55th-minute header gave Chelsea a deserved victory over United after a dominant performance at Stamford Bridge, as Conte got the response he had been seeking after a humiliating 3-0 away loss to Roma in the Champions League on Wednesday.
But much of the pre-match discussion focused on the absence of Luiz, who was left out of the 18-man match day squad despite being fit amid reports that he and Conte had clashed following the Roma defeat.
After the win over United on Sunday, Conte had told Sky Sports he didn’t know whether Luiz still had a future at Chelsea, however he distanced himself from that sentiment in his post-match news conference later in the evening.
“It’s very simple, no? Very simple,” Conte said. “The coach has to make the best decision for the team, and tonight the best decision for the team was to play with Christensen and to have, on the bench, [Ethan] Ampadu. Another young player, a really good player for the present and the future. Then I decided in this way tonight.
“Maybe in the future I can decide a different way, or continue in this way. That’s normal. I must take the best decision for the club, not for a single player. Sometimes I can make mistakes. Sometimes I can do the best things for my team.”
Pressed on why Luiz had been dropped, he added: “It’s only a tactical decision. It’s normal. This can happen to every one of my players, if I see that they are not in good form. It’s normal.
“I repeat: I have to put my face in every situation, and then to sometimes make important decisions. Today I did this and I think Christensen played a massive game. I was very happy for this.
“I think that I have a squad. I have a squad with 16 senior players, and five young players. I have these players, and then I repeat I have to make the best decision for the team. I try to do this.”
Asked what had happened to make Luiz — a player described by Conte as “very important” to Chelsea on numerous occasions this season — suddenly expendable, he replied: “It can change. It can change.”
Morata’s goal was his first in six Chelsea appearances in all competitions, but Conte highlighted the mitigating circumstances behind the Spain international’s dip in form.
“When you talk about Morata, this is the first season he’s playing regularly,” he explained. “In previous seasons he never played regularly [as a starter]. Now, for sure, he has to try to work, to improve. I think that before his [hamstring] injury, he was playing in a fantastic way. Then, after the Manchester City injury, his form dropped. His form wasn’t good enough.
“But now, to play and to work, he’s improving. Tonight he played a really good game against three strong physical central defenders, and he showed he’s strong physically and has good technique.
“He could be more clinical, score more goals and kill the game, but we have changed a lot of players this season and our [average] age is lower than last season, with Christensen, Morata, [Antonio] Rudiger and [Tiemoue] Bakayoko. They’re 22, 24 … it means we must have patience with these type of players, improve them and build something together.”