Antonio Conte has warned the fringe members of his Chelsea squad that it is not his priority to “try to make all of the players happy” as he chases an historic Premier League and FA Cup double this season.
Many of Chelsea’s key starters were given a rest as Conte made seven changes for the 2-0 win over Wolves that sent the Blues into the FA Cup quarterfinals on Saturday, but Diego Costa and Eden Hazard were still preferred to £33 million summer signing Michy Batshuayi and academy prospect Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
John Terry captained the team as he seeks a sixth FA Cup triumph in what may prove his final season as a Chelsea player, but the 36-year-old faces a fight to keep his starting spot when Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United visit Stamford Bridge with a semifinal place at stake next month.
Conte says Terry has earned his FA Cup appearances this season, but insists that winning will always be at the forefront of his mind when picking his team.
“It was important to continue to play with Costa, Willian and Hazard [against Wolves],” Conte said. “Our target is to win, not to try to make all the players happy.
“It’s important to make all the right choices because for Diego it was very important to play, to score. The same for Hazard and Willian. It was very important for me to find a new solution with the two wingers as wing-backs.
“In the first game [against Peterborough]I made nine changes, the second game [against Brentford]I made nine and against Wolves I made seven but I tried to make the best decision to win, and then when we have the game in the quarter-final I’ll decide the line-up.”
On Terry, he added: “I want to be very clear. I’m pleased to give the opportunity [to play]but not because there is a sentiment. John Terry is my captain and he’s important on and off the pitch. He played very well. He’s helping me a lot.”
Terry performed solidly at the heart of a three-man Chelsea backline at Molineux in the face of fierce Wolves pressure, and goalkeeper Asmir Begovic believes the 36-year-old still has the quality to prolong his top-level professional career if he chooses to keep playing beyond this season.
“Absolutely he’s still got it — he’s the best defender in Premier League history,” Begovic said of Terry. “He trains like he always has. I can see him continuing to play and I don’t see why he should quit but maybe if he lifts two trophies [this season]that’s a great way to go out as well.”