Ruben Loftus-Cheek made a big impact off the bench against Dynamo Kyiv on Thursday, but it was a surprise to many to see him left out of Maurizio Sarri's starting line-up in the 3-0 Europa League win.
The midfielder almost scored and registered an assist for Callum Hudson-Odoi in a nearly 30-minute appearance at Stamford Bridge, as the Blues look set to make the quarter-final of the competition.
Sarri wanted to start the 23-year-old, who has looked at times this season like making that decisive breakthrough as a regular first-team player. However, Loftus-Cheek is still not at 100 per cent as he looks to fully recover from a recurring back injury that flared up against Nottingham Forest in early January.
Loftus-Cheek still needs a little longer, according to Sarri, as he tries to allow the homegrown star to finally make it big in west London.
“In the last few weeks, better," Sarri said about Loftus-Cheek's back injury. "He has played with continuity in the last few weeks. His condition is not at the top at the moment to play 90 minutes, which is why he wasn't in the starting XI today.
"I wanted Jorginho on the pitch for 50-55 minutes. I wanted [N'Golo] Kante on for 30-35 minutes. So I wasn't able to choose him because he was another substitution. But only for this reason. At the moment, he's not able to play for 90 minutes.
"His condition is improving. His back is better and better, so I think in two or three weeks he will be able to play for 90 minutes.”
Wolves beat Chelsea 2-1 at the Molineux in December, in a match that Loftus-Cheek scored in during his brightest period under the club's latest manager. The two sides are set to meet again at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
Sarri admits that his use of substitutes on Thursday was a bid to keep players fresh in what has been a busy period for the club, and that trend will likely continue against Wolves.
“We changed six or seven players today, and probably it will be the same in the next match," he added. "Of course, at this moment, it's really difficult to arrive in every match mentally and physically at 100% with the same level of determination.
"But I think, for the next match, we can change six or seven players still. Jorginho played only 50 minutes, Kante only 40 minutes, Barkley only 60, no more. These three players will be able to play the next match.
"Of course, at this moment, it's a problem for every English team involved in European competition.”
Chelsea have their Champions League qualification fate in their own hands, sitting just two points off the fourth spot with a game in hand. They also have one foot in the Europe League quarter-final, which offers a second route to achieve the club's main goal for the season.
Sarri believes the battle to finish in the top four will run until the end of the season, as four clubs are seemingly fighting over two spots in the top four, with Manchester City and Liverpool looking like they are competing on another level for the Premier League title.
"I think we are fighting and we will be fighting for the top four until the last minute of the last match. Every match will be important in our future," Sarri said.