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The Italian insists he must rotate his squad in order to compete on all fronts after the Blues struggled to see off the Potters without their captain or vice-captain starting

Roberto Di Matteo defended his decision to drop John Terry and Frank Lampard after Chelsea struggled to a 1-0 victory over Stoke on Saturday.

Ashley Cole's first goal for the Blues in over two years sealed an unconvincing win five minutes from time after a stubborn and disciplined Potters side had frustrated their hosts for long periods.

Both Terry and Lampard were introduced as second-half substitutes, but the narrow nature of the victory meant the Italian's decision to relegate two of his senior stars to the bench was widely questioned.

"We were just utilising the squad," he told reporters. "We have some good players, and we wanted to bring some fresh ones in.

"We’ve done it many times before and we’ll continue to use the squad, because we play so many games. We don’t want to get to November and be burned out.

"John Terry and Frank Lampard are fantastic. They are two big members of the team, two leaders and they lead by example.

"When they are not involved they support me and support the team, and it’s a pleasure for me to have players like that.

"Whenever you play against Stoke, it’s always so hard to break them down, because they defend with so many men and they’re very well drilled.

"If you get an early goal it helps your game massively. If not, it’s just hard work to try and find spaces."
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Saturday's match also saw Chelsea field Eden Hazard, Juan Mata and Oscar in the same starting line-up for the first time and, while the trio's combinations occasionally hinted at promising things to come, Di Matteo admitted they need more time together on the training pitch to become truly effective.

"It’s the first time we have tried them together," he continued.

"It certainly needs more work to be able to tactically integrate them perfectly into our system. They worked well, but it’s a question of time and practice for them to get to know each other better."

Di Matteo also dismissed suggestions that Fernando Torres is unhappy, after the Spaniard followed up a petulant reaction to being substituted against QPR with another uninspired display.

"Fernando in a very good mood because he’s in a team which is at the top of the league," he insisted.

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