David Luiz is back in the Chelsea squad for Saturday’s match against West Brom but faces a battle with Andreas Christensen to win back his starting spot, manager Antonio Conte has said.
Conte did not indulge questions about his relationship with Luiz, who was surprisingly dropped from Chelsea’s matchday squad for the 1-0 win over Manchester United prior to the November international break amid reports of tensions with his head coach.
The 30-year-old has trained at Cobham for the past 10 days having been omitted from the Brazil squad, and Conte reiterated that every player has a responsibility to come to terms with his decisions over team selection.
“I repeat, it was a technical decision,” Conte said of dropping Luiz. “When it’s a technical decision, every single player has to react well and accept my decision. It’s normal, this.”
Asked if his relationship with Luiz has been affected, Conte replied:
“I think that I stay here to speak for the team before an important game against West Bromwich, and not to speak about one single player. I don’t like that.
“I like to speak about the team and the next game that we have to pay great attention to. This is the most important thing.”
Christensen shone in Luiz’s place at the heart of Chelsea’s back three against United, and Conte said the academy graduate’s performances in recent weeks have given him another valuable option.
“It’s positive,” Conte added of Christensen’s form. “Last season I didn’t have this opportunity [to rotate Luiz]. This season, with Christensen, I have another opportunity, another really good opportunity, because Christensen is showing himself to be an important player for us.
“For sure, he’s only 21 years old, but he’s playing with great maturity. I hope to continue to improve in this way.”
Chelsea’s injury problems have eased over the international break. Only Michy Batshuayi (ankle), Charly Musonda (knee) and Victor Moses (hamstring) are definitely out of the trip to The Hawthorns, though Conte is optimistic of having Moses back from next week.
There is no margin for error against West Brom with Chelsea already nine points adrift of Premier League leaders Manchester City, and Conte said it is hard to imagine Pep Guardiola’s men being caught in the title race if they maintain their recent standards.
“I must be honest, now Manchester City are playing very well and it’s very difficult to think that you can catch them because, if they continue in this way, it will be very difficult for any team to try and fight for the title,” Conte continued.
“We have to try to fight until the end. But, for sure, it won’t be easy because I think Manchester City are very strong. They were a very good team last season. This season they worked very well during the transfer market and it is a team that, after this transfer market, showed themselves to be very, very strong.
“Football can be strange. It’s very difficult now to predict who will win the title in this league, but Manchester City are [on] a very positive path. It will be very difficult for the other teams.”