LONDON, Feb 17, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – Chelsea manager Antonio Conte welcomed his selection headache ahead of a vital few weeks for the English champions after a much-changed side thrashed Hull City 4-0 to reach the FA Cup quarter finals on Friday.
Willian was the star of the show with two fabulous strikes from outside the box, while Pedro Rodriguez and Olivier Giroud with his first for the club also struck as all four goals came in the first-half.
Conte had left Thibaut Courtois, Cesar Azpilicueta, N’Golo Kante and Eden Hazard out of his squad before Barcelona’s visit to Stamford Bridge for the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie on Tuesday.
“Before an important game, against Barcelona, tonight I go to my house with many doubts in my mind, which is the best starting XI to start the game against Barcelona,” said Conte.
“But it’s right to be so. We must take the right time to make the best decision to pick the best XI to start that game.”
In between the two legs against the Catalan giants, Chelsea travel to Manchester United and Manchester City on Premier League duty as they battle for a place in the top four.
However, Conte believes victory, allied to a 3-0 win over West Brom on Monday, has restored the confidence needed to beat Barca to a Chelsea side that was reeling after back-to-back defeats against Bournemouth and Watford less than two weeks ago.
“We are talking about a massive game. But now, we must be confident,” added the Italian.
“I consider Barcelona one of the best teams in the world. In one side, you must be a bit sad to play against them, but, on the other hand, you must be excited.
“You have to try and compete with them at this level. It won’t be easy, for sure, but we must have the right confidence and then we’ll see what happens.”
– Willian makes case –
Willian did more than most to try and force his way into Conte’s side for Tuesday.
The Brazilian scored from long-range off both feet and saw another effort come back of the post two minutes from time.
“The hat-trick was almost there, I tried, but the most important thing was the win,” said Willian.
“After a difficult moment we are back to winning games. When you are winning games the confidence goes high. Now we have to carry on.”
A perfect night for Chelsea was rounded off by Giroud bagging his first goal for the club following a deadline day move from Arsenal last month.
“I was waiting for it. I had a couple of chances in previous games. It was important for me to score my first goal. It’s relieved me a little bit,” he said.
“We can see the team had a good team cohesion. It was important to bounce back after some disappointing results.”
Conte was forced to field a side without a natural striker for defeats against Bournemouth and Watford, but now has competition for places up front as Alvaro Morata continued his comeback from a back injury for the final 20 minutes.
And in a further injury boost, Conte confirmed left wing-back Marcos Alonso will be fit to face Barca.