Chelsea manager Antonio Conte on Friday welcomed his selection headache ahead of a vital few weeks for the English champions after his much-changed side thrashed Hull City 4-0 to reach the FA Cup quarter-finals.
Willian was the star of the show with two fabulous strikes from outside the penalty area, while Pedro and Olivier Giroud with his first for the club also struck as all four goals came in the first half.
Conte had left Thibaut Courtois, Cesar Azpilicueta, N’Golo Kante and Eden Hazard out of his squad before Barcelona’s visit to Stamford Bridge for the first leg of their UEFA Champions League round-of-16 tie on Tuesday.
“Before an important game, against Barcelona, tonight 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,” Conte said.
In between the two legs against the Catalan giants, Chelsea travel to Manchester United and Manchester City on English Premier League duty as they battle for a place in the top four.
However, Conte believes victory, allied to a 3-0 win over West Bromwich Albion on Monday, has restored the confidence needed to beat Barca to a Chelsea side that was reeling after back-to-back defeats against AFC Bournemouth and Watford less than two weeks ago.
“We are talking about a massive game, but now we must be confident,” the Italian said. “I consider Barcelona one of the best teams in the world. In one side, you must be a bit sad to play against them, but on the other hand, you must be excited. 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.”
Willian did more than most to try and force his way into Conte’s side for Tuesday.
The Brazilian scored from long-range off both feet and saw another effort come back of the post two minutes from time.
“The hat-trick was almost there, I tried, but the most important thing was the win,” Willian said. “After a difficult moment, we are back to winning games. When you are winning games the confidence goes high. Now we have to carry on.”
A perfect night for Chelsea was rounded off by Giroud bagging his first goal for the club following his deadline day move from Arsenal last month.
“I was waiting for it. I had a couple of chances in previous games. It was important for me to score my first goal. It’s relieved me a little bit,” Giroud said. “We can see the team had a good team cohesion. It was important to bounce back after some disappointing results.”
Conte was forced to field a side without a natural striker for the defeats against Bournemouth and Watford, but now has competition for places up front as Alvaro Morata continued his comeback from a back injury in the final 20 minutes.
Elsewhere, Leicester City joined Chelsea in the last eight as Riyad Mahrez provided the spark for the Foxes on his return to the starting lineup.
The Algerian’s only appearance in Leicester’s previous three outings came as a late substitute in a 5-1 drubbing at Manchester City last weekend following his self-imposed exile from training after Leicester rejected Manchester City’s advances for the winger last month.
However, he showed why the runaway Premier League leaders were interested with a teasing cross for Jamie Vardy to head home the only goal in a 1-0 win over Sheffield United.
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