Chelsea face Mark Hughes’ Stoke City at the Bet365 Stadium tonight, as they look to maintain their 10-point lead at the top of the Premier League table.
Antonio Conte chose to remain coy on being asked about his squad’s fitness, revealing that there were a couple of ‘situations’ he had to assess before taking a decision for tonight’s game. Only Victor Moses is a known doubt after he picked up a knock against Manchester United.
The Nigerian is expected to be available, but it remains to be seen how Conte forms his team. While the starting XI could spring a few surprises, the formation certainly shouldn’t. The Italian’s usage of the 3-4-3 this season has done wonders for Chelsea and propelled them to the summit of the League.
Teams have adapted their formation while coming up against the Blues in an attempt to stop them and in his pre-match press conference, Conte said that he took this as a compliment and it showed how well this formation was working and it was also bringing about a change to English football.
In early every game this season, Conte has had to face the dilemma of picking between Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fabregas to team up alongside the indispensable N’golo Kante in the center of midfield and the Serbian has been called up far more often than the Spaniard.
Conte however, showered praise on Fabregas, who he described as a ‘fantasy’ player, as per Sky Sports. He added that it was important to manage the selection problem properly, but praised the impact that the Spaniard has had this season and being a thorough professional.
“He’s technically very good, and can put the ball where he wants. He’s a great player. Often, he’s decisive with the pass, with the assist, and also to score a goal. This season, he has improved a lot in all aspects and, for me, he is a really, really important player.”
Stoke City are known for the physical nature of their game and one player who will have to take more caution to not get injured is Eden Hazard. The Belgian was subject to 6 fouls by Manchester United in their last fixture, some of which even led to Ander Herrera getting sent off.
On being asked about the ways other teams resorted to stopping the Mercurial Belgian, Conte insisted that he wasn’t worried about Hazard’s ability to cope in the League and that he was showing ‘great character’. He did however, insist that the referee must keep a close eye on proceedings.
“For the referee it’s right to always make the best decision, and for the players to have respect of the opponent and of football,” he said. “I repeat: we play football. Then, I know, during the game you can get kicked. It’s normal, this, but the referee must pay great attention to try to respect the rules of football, because football is a great sport.”