LONDON • Jose Mourinho said defensive reasons caused him to leave Eden Hazard out of Chelsea's starting line-up as the English Premier League football champions returned to winning ways with a 2-0 victory over Aston Villa.
Belgian midfielder Hazard was a surprise omission from the Chelsea starting XI on Saturday. But the Blues thrived in his absence as an opener from Diego Costa and a deflected own goal from Alan Hutton secured a crucial three points to ease the pressure on Mourinho.
It was just Chelsea's third league victory of a campaign which has seen them make their worst start to a season in 37 years and Blues manager Mourinho left no doubt as to why Hazard had been forced to watch all but the last seven minutes of the game from the bench.
"I left out Hazard because we are conceding lots of goals. We need to defend better," said the Portuguese, whose champions had conceded at least twice in all their league games, with the exception of the home victory over Arsenal.
STOPPING THE LEAKS
It was a tactical decision. Leaving super quality on the bench, but bringing (in) tactical discipline and hoping the team could be solid.
JOSE MOURINHO on Chelsea needing to control the midfield
"We need our midfielders to be just worried in the central area of the pitch, not worrying about compensation on the left or right.
"Playing with Willian and Pedro, the midfielders don't have to move left or right. They know those parts are controlled.
"Pedro and Willian did amazing work and allowed the midfielders to be very comfortable. It was a tactical decision. Leaving super quality on the bench, but bringing (in) tactical discipline and hoping the team could be solid.
"I told the players that this is not the moment to think about themselves or their personal situation, a moment to moan or try to be selfish in the approach. This is a moment for the team, just the team, and nothing else."
Hazard, the Premier League's player of the year last season, had previously started every league game for Chelsea this season.
While the Belgian's stock may have fallen in Mourinho's eyes, temporarily at least, Costa was a plus in a contest in which the Chelsea manager dare not contemplate defeat.
Yet, own goals (three) by their opponents are still the Blues' biggest source of goals, with Costa and Willian on two league goals this season.
"Yes, it was good," said Mourinho of the controversial Costa, who returned from a three-match suspension. "As I was saying, he was coming very strong. Against Arsenal, he was very good, and then we lost him for three matches.
"The way he was working in the last few weeks, I knew he would bring something positive for us."
There were few positives on Saturday for Villa manager Tim Sherwood. His side fell to their seventh league defeat and are without a win since their opening-day victory at Bournemouth.
Sherwood has seen his position at the club come under close scrutiny, and there is speculation that he could be sacked if Villa lose to Swansea at home on Saturday.
Brendan Rodgers, recently dismissed by Liverpool, has been mentioned as a potential successor, although he has made it clear he will take the rest of the season off from football.
"I don't know," said Sherwood when asked about reports questioning his job security. "I'm under no illusions. As a manager, you have to win matches. If you don't, you invariably lose your job somewhere down the line."