Questions abound over Conte's selection policies

LONDON • Antonio Conte defended his tactical approach in Chelsea's goalless draw at Everton as he limited stand-in forward Michy Batshuayi to a 20-minute substitute appearance.

Conte was without suspended striker Alvaro Morata on Saturday but opted to start with a forward line that featured Willian, Pedro and Eden Hazard rather than an orthodox No. 9. The move did not pay off as Chelsea failed to turn their dominance into goals, but Blues boss Conte said his striker-free team were his only option because Batshuayi was not fully fit.

"Don't forget our striker Morata was out. And for us, this player is very important, he is our finisher," Conte said after his side had 25 shots on goal with eight on target.

"In the end, we played with a second option with three No. 10s - Willian, Pedro, Hazard - and we created many chances to score. We must be more clinical.

"Today we played without our striker but this season, we played many times this way.

"Don't forget that Michy started many games at the start of the season then he had an injury. He's still coming back from injury and just played 75 minutes against Bournemouth (in midweek)."

The £33 million (S$59.2 million) signing has started only two league games for Conte this season.

Everton centre-back Ashley Williams giving his team a fright by heading against his own crossbar in an attempt to clear the ball in the second half on Saturday. The Toffees shut up shop to keep out a toothless Chelsea side missing their No. 1 striker
Everton centre-back Ashley Williams giving his team a fright by heading against his own crossbar in an attempt to clear the ball in the second half on Saturday. The Toffees shut up shop to keep out a toothless Chelsea side missing their No. 1 striker Alvaro Morata, who was banned for the game. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

"There is nothing to explain," said the Italian when asked why he opted not to start Batshuayi at Goodison Park. "I think today I did take the best decision for my team."

He bemoaned Chelsea's lack of luck, with Phil Jagielka clearing two first-half efforts off the Everton line in quick succession and Ashley Williams heading against his own crossbar in the second half.

Everton have won five and drawn two - against Liverpool and Chelsea - of the seven games since Sam Allardyce agreed to take over as manager from Ronald Koeman.

While defender Michael Keane missed a glorious chance to win the game in the 90th minute, Allardyce was also aware that he owed a debt to his goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, who he first came across when managing him at Sunderland.

"I knew he was a talented goalkeeper but his growth has been miraculously quick for a goalkeeper," said Allardyce of the England international.

"He seems to be able to get to the right spot, his starting positions are exceptional, and that's why he is making the saves he is."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 25, 2017, with the headline 'Questions abound over Conte's selection policies'. Print Edition | Subscribe