Chelsea: We like it that Stoke played weakened team against us

Date published: Sunday 31st December 2017 1:40

Chelsea boss Antonio Conte insists Mark Hughes was within his rights to field a weakened Stoke side when the two teams met at Stamford Bridge.

Stoke were blown away as goals from Antonio Rudiger, Danny Drinkwater, Pedro, Willian and Davide Zappacosta sealed a 5-0 win that lifted Chelsea to second in the Premier League table.

Hughes admitted afterwards he had prioritised Monday’s crunch game at home to Newcastle by leaving out key players, with Xherdan Shaqiri, Joe Allen and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting all on the bench.

Tom Edwards and Josh Tymon – both just 18 – were handed rare starts in defence and both endured a difficult afternoon against the reigning champions.

But Conte, who himself rested Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas and Tiemoue Bakayoko, insists rotation is inevitable during the draining Christmas schedule.

“You can be surprised but am I? Not at all,” Conte told Chelsea TV. “Stoke has to play another game in two days against Newcastle and they played three days ago.

“It was the same for us. When you play a lot of games in a few days it is important to rotate and find different solutions.

“Today for example Hazard was rested. You know very well the importance of this player. Fabregas was rested. Bakayoko, if you look at the previous game, was also rested.

“It is important to make the best rotation but you have to make sure you don’t lose the balance of your team.”

Even those Chelsea players on the field were hardly tested by Stoke and Conte will hope they enjoy the benefits when they travel to Arsenal on Wednesday.

Both teams would appear now to be scrapping for Champions League qualification given Manchester City’s relentless form at the top, but Chelsea are building momentum with five wins and a draw from their last six games.

“For us and the other top teams in England it will be very tough [to catch City],” Conte said.

“We have to know that we face five tough months because we have to fight for a place in the Champions League and it won’t be easy to reach this target.

“I think now City have created a big gap between them and the other teams but at the same time we have to try to put everything into every game to try to get three points and put a bit of pressure on the teams above us.”

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