Antonio Conte hopeful Andreas Christensen can return against West Brom
LONDON -- Antonio Conte is hoping that Andreas Christensen will be fit to return for Chelsea against West Bromwich Albion on Monday after admitting that he does not know why his defence has struggled so much without the young Dane.
Christensen limped off after tweaking his hamstring just 28 minutes into last month's Premier League clash with Bournemouth at Stamford Bridge.
In his absence, Conte's men conceded three goals in 16 wild second-half minutes to slump to a shock 3-0 defeat.
Asked why Chelsea have struggled so much defensively in Christensen's absence, Conte replied: "I don't know. It happened in the last two games. I don't know why, but it happened. We didn't concede many goals in the past when Christensen played.
"For sure, he's an important player for us. It's right to look at the stats, but we have to take the stats in the right way. But, for sure, Christensen is an important player for us. He's playing a fantastic season."
David Luiz stepped in for Christensen against Watford at Vicarage Road on Monday, as Conte restored the back three that provided a solid foundation for last season's Premier League title triumph.
Chelsea, however, looked hapless in defence again and lost 4-1, conceding three goals in the final six minutes.
Those defeats, compounded by the nature of the performances, have left Conte's future as head coach in serious doubt ahead of Monday's match against West Brom.
Christensen trained away from the rest of the Chelsea squad at Cobham on Friday, but has not been ruled out of the match.
Christensen returned to Chelsea last summer following a highly productive two-year loan at Borussia Monchengladbach and, despite starting the season on the bench, he took Luiz's place in the middle of the back three in November after the Brazilian was dropped for a Premier League match against Manchester United due to tensions with Conte.
Luiz is likely to keep his place against West Brom if Christensen does not recover in time. The Brazilian's performance on his first Premier League start since October at Vicarage Road attracted widespread criticism, but Conte insisted that he has fully recovered from the knee inflammation that prolonged his absence from the team and is "in contention" for Monday's game.
Liam is ESPN FC's Chelsea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Liam_Twomey.