I have a selection headache for Barcelona clash, admits Conte

Chelsea’s Antonio Conte revealed his team’s convincing performance in their 4-0 defeat of Hull has given him a selection dilemma for Tuesday’s Champions League tie with Barcelona.

The manager had rotated his team for the FA Cup fifth-round visit of the Championship Tigers and ahead of their fixtures with Barca, Manchester United and Manchester City, and then saw several fringe players impress.

Two goals from Willian and further finishes from Pedro and Olivier Giroud, the latter his first for the club since his arrival from Arsenal, essentially secured victory by half-time, and came in the absence of Eden Hazard, Andreas Christensen, Thibaut Courtois and N’Golo Kante.

Alvaro Morata is another the 48-year-old Conte may previously have considered a likely starter for the last-16 first-leg visit of Barca and, asked about his team’s performance, he said: “I’m very happy. Before an important game, against Barcelona, I go to my house with many doubts in my mind.

“‘Which is the best starting XI to start the game against Barcelona?’ But it’s right to be so. We must take the right time to make the best decision to pick the best XI to start that game.

“We started with great concentration and determination. We must be pleased, especially because we are in the (quarter-finals) in this competition. The first half was impressive because we scored four goals. The game was very compact.

“In the second half we tried to manage the game. In England that’s very difficult, because anything can happen.”

Their performance and victory represented further signs of improvement following Monday’s 3-0 defeat of West Brom that had come after successive losses to Watford and Bournemouth, leading to growing speculation surrounding Conte’s position.

At the end of a successful week there is far less tension around his team and the Italian added: “The last two wins were very important for us and our confidence. To win in the league, and then the FA Cup, was very important for our confidence, and to prepare in the right way for Barcelona.

“To play against Barcelona is a great challenge for us. This type of game must give us great enthusiasm. We must be excited to play, especially against this team.

Chelsea’s Olivier Giroud shakes hands with Chelsea manager Antonio Conte as he is substituted off (John Walton/Empics)
Barcelona are next up for Antonio Conte’s Chelsea (John Walton/Empics)

“I consider Barcelona one of the best teams in the world. You have to try and compete with them at this level. It won’t be easy, for sure, but we must have the right confidence and then we’ll see what happens.”

Hull’s focus is now on the fight against a second successive relegation and manager Nigel Adkins said: “We’ve come with a game plan and within a couple of minutes it goes out of the window.

“We gifted them the opportunities to score some goals in the first half. But, wow, they’ve got some good players and counter-attack so quickly.

“We gave the ball away far too cheaply and allowed class players to hurt us big time.”

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Football Paradise Staff Reporter

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