Antonio Conte defended his “tactical decision” to substitute Eden Hazard after Jesse Lingard’s late goal enabled Manchester United to hand Chelsea a 2-1 defeat and a damaging blow in the Premier League top-four race.
Hazard tormented the United defence in tandem with Willian in the first half at Old Trafford, playing in the Brazilian for the opening goal in the 32nd minute, but Romelu Lukaku pulled the hosts level with a close-range strike after good work from Anthony Martial seven minutes later.
The match was finely poised when Conte replaced Hazard with Pedro Rodriguez in the 73rd minute, but Lingard glanced in Lukaku’s cross at the near post shortly afterwards to complete United’s comeback and hand Chelsea their seventh Premier League defeat of the season.
Conte’s substitution of Hazard drew widespread criticism, but after the match the Chelsea head coach insisted he replaced the tiring Belgian in an attempt to preserve the “balance” of his team.
“It was a tactical decision,” Conte said when asked if Hazard was injured. “We have to keep the same performance for 90 minutes. Otherwise we don’t have a great balance. Every single player has to work with the ball, without the ball, otherwise we lose our balance and the game.
“I think he finished his energy. In the first half he ran a lot. In the second half he started the same way but when I see a player is a bit tired, my task is to find a different solution.”