Willian must be 'happy' to come off the bench for Chelsea - Antonio Conte
LONDON -- Antonio Conte dismissed suggestions that Willian is unhappy with his role at Chelsea, saying that all his players must be "happy" to play for the club regardless of whether they start or come off the substitutes' bench.
Willian has started just six of Chelsea's 12 Premier League matches this season and has cut a disgruntled figure at times despite scoring three goals in two matches against Qarabag and Liverpool last week, while there have been numerous reports that the Brazil international is open to a move away from Stamford Bridge next summer.
Conte said in May that his priority is winning matches rather than maintaining the happiness of his players, and he reiterated that stance when asked at a news conference if it was a difficult balance to keep Willian on side.
"Why are you asking about Willian and not [Eden] Hazard at the start of the season, and not Pedro the same?" he said. "They have the same situation. Every game I have to make the best decision. My players must be happy to stay in Chelsea and to play for Chelsea and to play for our fans.
"They must be happy if they start the game, or if they stay on the bench and come on. I think I have clever players to understand the situation and accept it. Hazard, at the start of the season, accepted the situation to stay on the bench before finding the right form. It's the same for Pedro, for Willy [Caballero], for other players.
"When you are in a great team, you have to accept this and, at the same time, you must be happy to stay in a great team."
One of the few players whose position in Conte's starting XI is assured is Thibaut Courtois, but the goalkeeper fuelled speculation of a move away from Chelsea last week when he said he was happy to delay talks to extend his current contract, which expires in June 2019.
"Thibaut is one of the best players, one of the best goalkeepers in the world," Conte added. "Maybe he's the best. For sure, he can become the best goalkeeper in the world. He has great potential. Despite his age, he's very young, he shows great maturity in every game and is a really fantastic player in his role. For this reason, I hope, I hope he finds an agreement with the club [over a contract]. But this is the club's responsibility."
Chelsea will be without David Luiz for Tuesday's match against Swansea City after Conte revealed that the defender has picked up a knee injury.
Asked how long he will be out, the Chelsea boss said: "I don't know. It will be up to the doctor to assess the situation very well [on Wednesday], and then to take the best decision for the player."
Conte's priority heading into a frantic festive fixture schedule is to avoid a repeat of the injury problems that blighted Chelsea's start to the season. To achieve this, he said that he is prepared to rest any of his players for certain matches.
"I'd like to start every game with the best players but, at the same time, this is not possible," he said. "Otherwise I don't protect them. I take a risk I think is not right to take, especially because the season is long and has just started.
"For this reason, I have to try to protect every player. At the same time, it's not simple, not easy to leave great players [out] to rest. But I have to do this. I want the best for the team, the best for the players."
Victor Moses is in contention to face Swansea after a six-week layoff with a hamstring injury, but Conte would not be drawn on whether the Nigeria international will return to his starting XI.
"Victor Moses is in contention for tomorrow's game, but at the same time, I must make the best decision for the team, for every player," he said. "Victor is back from a bad injury and he needs a bit of time to find the best physical condition. But, as you know very well, he is an important player for us."
Liam is ESPN FC's Chelsea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Liam_Twomey.