Antonio Conte has thrown the Chelsea future of David Luiz into doubt after dropping him for the crucial victory over Manchester United.
Luiz was not even named among the substitutes, as Conte preferred 21-year-old Andreas Christensen in the heart of his back three and 17-year-old Ethan Ampadu on the bench. The gamble paid off, as Christensen was superb in Chelsea’s win that was clinched by an Alvaro Morata goal.
Asked by television reporters whether or not Luiz still has a future at Chelsea, head coach Conte replied: “I don’t know. He has to work really hard otherwise they are on the bench or in the stand.”
When given the chance to clarify the statement during his post-match press conference, Conte 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.
“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 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. But are you talking about the future? Every day you put my future [in the spotlight]. I think it’s normal that, from now until the end, every game, every day, someone puts my future in discussion. In question.
“It’s very simple, no? Very simple. 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, Ampadu. Another young player. A really good player for the present and the future. 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.”
While Conte insisted there had been no fall out with Luiz, there was a distinct sense that he had been placed on the Stamford Bridge naughty step as he sat behind the Chelsea substitutes next to his Brazilian compatriot Kenedy, who was also left out in the cold. Kenedy had been on the substitutes’ bench for Chelsea’s Champions League defeat at Roma, but earned a stern lecture from Conte for yawning his way through the Italian’s stormy inquest.
During that dressing down, Conte questioned Luiz, along with other members of the squad, and warned them that whoever could not follow his orders would simply not play for him. Conte had been unhappy with Luiz’s reaction to being substituted in the 3-3 home draw with Roma and gave him a training ground ticking off a few days later.
The former Juventus manager was equally as unimpressed with the defending of Luiz in Rome, when he, Antonio Rudiger and Cesar Azpilicueta were pulled apart by Edin Dzeko. That was the final straw and Luiz was left out of Conte’s final training session ahead of the United game, as he was made one of the ball boys for an 11 v 11 match, and Christensen was deservedly rewarded for promising displays in big games against Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City with a start for the visit of United.
It will have not gone unnoticed by Luiz that Conte raised both arms above his head to applaud Christensen eight minutes before half-time after the Dane had held off pressure from Marcus Rashford to turn with the ball in his own area and clear the danger.
Christensen was clapped by his head coach again in the second half and was one of Chelsea’s best performers as they kept only their second clean sheet in nine games. Despite beating United, Chelsea are still nine points behind Manchester City, who are eight points clear at the top of the Premier League table.