LONDON • Antonio Conte was publicly glowing in the aftermath of Chelsea's victory on Wednesday, although the hoarseness of his voice betrayed an evening which had proved rather trying.
"The most important thing is we're in the semi-finals," the manager said after the 2-1 League Cup quarter-final win over Bournemouth. "To reach the semi-final in one of the two Cups in England is great for us, especially with a lot (of squad) rotation."
The Italian had never been shy to rue his side's lack of depth and perhaps squeezing into a League Cup semi-final against Arsenal from such an anxious contest against Bournemouth may end up being to his advantage.
The cavalry may have come to the rescue in stoppage time, but at least Conte can point to his much-changed side's spluttering display as further evidence the squad lack the required depth to compete on all fronts. The Chelsea board may now note that it has to dig a little deeper when it comes to next month's transfer window.
Conte, however, did not forget to praise his second-string side's determination after they earned a hard-fought win at Stamford Bridge.
"Many players had their chances tonight to play from the start and I think I had good responses. I hope to continue in this way," he said.
"It's also not simple when you concede a goal in the last minute of the game, so to have this type of reaction shows great character, personality and heart."
Time of Alvaro Morata's winner for Chelsea.
Chelsea took the early lead through Willian but Bournemouth midfielder Dan Gosling levelled the score in the 90th minute.
The hosts then stunned Eddie Howe's men by grabbing the winner through substitute Alvaro Morata less than a minute later.
It was overall a spiky occasion and one which, for all the relief of victory, will have left Conte privately frustrated even as he showed his delight in public. His fringe players had been granted an opportunity but, in truth, the vast majority struggled to take their chance.
Michy Batshuayi's display was peripheral and after recent ankle problems, he was rusty in front of goal.
Danny Drinkwater's campaign has been even more disrupted by injury, so perhaps his rather tentative display was to be expected. And there was also the sight of Willian and Pedro fading - having been involved in three games in a week.
Conte has suggested he is yet to speak with Marina Granovskaia and the club's recruitment department about plans for next month. But having maintained Chelsea's interest on multiple fronts into the new year, he will expect significant additions to be made.
The Blues, third in the Premier League standings and 14 points behind leaders Manchester City, face resurgent Everton tomorrow.
THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS