Chelsea host Norwich this evening in their third round FA Cup replay and Blues boss Antonio Conte is expected to field a starting XI without Eden Hazard.
The Belgian midfielder has lasted the full 90 minutes just once in his last eight games with Conte preferring to haul him off before the final whistle.
Asked if he was concerned this might be alienating Hazard, Conte replied: “It is not important. I decide. I am the coach. My first task is to do the best for the team and the club, not to make every player happy.”
Subscribe to The Week
Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.
When the point was pressed, an irritated Conte snapped: “Every press conference there is always this question about whether I’m worried about making my players happy. No. I’m worried to win, otherwise we would risk finishing 20th in the table.”
The terse reaction suggests Conte is feeling the pressure ahead of tonight’s replay, no surprise given that his side are still without a win this year having drawn their last four encounters.
Furthermore, Chelsea have failed to score a goal in their last three outings, a worrying trend as next month’s Champions League last 16 clash with Barcelona creeps ever closer.
“This is a real problem for us,” admitted Conte. “We are not conceding but the bad news is that we are not scoring. We have to improve in this aspect.”
Inevitably, Conte was asked about Alexis Sanchez, with newspaper reports earlier in the week suggesting he was courting the Arsenal striker in the search for a goal-scorer.
“I don’t know but I don’t think so,” replied Conte to a question about the possibility of signing the Chilean.
“About the transfer market I prefer to talk to the club and give an opinion and I repeat I don’t want to give my opinion on that.”
The other striker being linked to Stamford Bridge is Andy Carroll. The Daily Telegraph claimed this morning that the Blues have “opened talks over a move”, with the club ready to sign him permanently and at the same time shunt out the under-performing Michy Batshuayi to Sevilla.
Chelsea’s latest acquisition, Ross Barkley, is cup tied tonight, and Conte will be without the injured Cesc Fabregas and Gary Cahill.
There was a note of frustration in the manager’s voice when he talked about fitting the replay into an already stretched schedule. “[It] is another game in a busy period for us,” he said. “I have to make many changes. We have to play against Brighton after two days.
“This is the great risk to make rotation, a lot of rotation. If you want to face and try to go to the next round in every competition this is the only way we can do.”
Tonight’s FA Cup third round replays (7.45pm kick-offs)
- Chelsea vs. Norwich City
- Swansea City vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers
- Wigan Athletic vs. AFC Bournemouth
Create an account with the same email registered to your subscription to unlock access.