'I made a fantastic choice' – Conte praises himself for starting Willian against Barcelona

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The Brazil international made an impact in one of the biggest games of the season and the Blues boss gave himself credit for his decision

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte has given himself credit after his decision to start Willian paid off with the Brazilian producing a masterful Barcelona showing.  

Willian proved to be the club's most dangerous player in their Champions League last-16 first leg on Tuesday, hitting the post twice before scoring in a 1-1 draw.

The 29-year-old is now on 11 goals and seven assists in all competitions in 2017-18, putting him second behind only Eden Hazard in goals. Conte sharply insisted he has not missed a trick by overlooking the Brazilian for big games until now.

“Do you think that I am stupid when I put Willy on the bench?" Conte said when asked whether Willian should have started more games. "I have to try and make the best decision for the team, no? Maybe last season we won the title, or did I forget something?

"Now he is playing because he deserves to play. But not because there is some regret from the past. For what? If a player deserves to play, and shows me during the training session that he is on top of his form, and wants to work defensively, he plays. If not, stay on the bench, stay in the stands.

"But this is not only for one player, but for all my players. This is what a winning mentality is. Not if one player is happy or if he is not happy if he doesn't play. It doesn't matter. I have to make the best decision for the team. He is playing now and I am very happy with my choice.

"Willian deserved to start in the previous game, and played well. I made a fantastic choice, and I want to take credit for that.”

Willian has started 10 more games for Chelsea this year compared to the same time last season, due to an increased fixture schedule after a run to the semi-final in the Carabao Cup and the club's involvement in Europe. 

Meanwhile, Conte will soon be involved in a reunion with Nemanja Matic, who was a key player in Chelsea's title win last season. Chelsea sold Matic for £40 million to Sunday's opponents Manchester United and Conte had only positive things to say about the Serbia international. 

“But about this player I can talk only really well because he played with us last season," Conte said. "I think he was one of the key players in winning the title.

Antonio Conte John Terry Nemanja Matic Chelsea Middlesbrough Premier League 08052017

"Now Matic, unfortunately, is playing for Manchester United. I wish for him the best. Not on Sunday, but in the future.”

Chelsea's game against Barcelona marked the start of a difficult run of fixtures with Manchester United at Old Trafford up next, followed by Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium just a week later. 

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The Blues then face Crystal Palace before going away to Barcelona. Conte thinks that Chelsea need to keep all their players fit, with such a tough run coming up. 

“I think that we have just started to play massive games, with Barcelona, now United and City, then Crystal Palace and then another important game ... also Palace is an important game for us, but then there is Barcelona. We have just started to play these massive games.

"For sure, my hope is to have all my players available. When you have to play these massive games, you must hope to have all players available. Otherwise we are in trouble.”

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