Antonio Conte has hinted Chelsea captain John Terry could be sent back to the bench for Sunday’s Premier League trip to Southampton.
Terry’s return to action in Chelsea’s midweek League Cup defeat at West Ham didn’t go according to plan as the centre-back struggled in his first appearance following six weeks on the sidelines with an ankle injury.
After three successive league wins without conceding a goal, Chelsea lost 2-1 to the Hammers and Terry’s error-strewn performance in Conte’s favoured three-man defence is unlikely to have persuaded the Italian to keep him in the starting line-up this weekend.
The back three system is alien to Terry, who thrived in a four-man defence for much of his career, and the 35-year-old was beaten in the air by Cheikhou Kouyate for West Ham’s first goal.
Conte eventually switched Terry from the central position to the left of the defence at half-time.
That leaves Terry as a potential casualty if the Blues boss recalls Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses to the wing-back roles and restores Cesar Azpilicueta to central defence.
“I don’t like to talk about individual players. We win together and we lose together in every circumstance,” Conte said.
“It’s logical that John came back from injury and it’s not easy to restart and to find quickly the right shape.
“John is an important player for us, if he plays, if he doesn’t play, for the changing room, for his team-mates, for the club.
“I repeat: in this case always it’s important the team and not to think or to speak about an individual player.
“I have always to take the best decision for the team, never for an individual player.”
Conte made seven changes against West Ham, stalling the momentum from last Sunday’s 4-0 demolition of Manchester United.
He wants a response against Southampton and has no intention of tinkering with the tactical formation that brought him success with Juventus and Italy.
“We wanted to win and to continue in the cup. It didn’t happen,” Conte said.
“It’s a pity, but on Sunday we have another tough game and it’s important our head now stays concentrated for this game.
“I think it’s the right way for the players. It’s a good fit for the team, this system.
“For sure we must continue to work in the offensive situations and also in defensive situation.
“It’s not easy, it’s completely different when you defend with four and when you defend with three defenders.”
Chelsea enter this weekend’s fixtures in fourth place, one point behind table-toppers Manchester City, who lead Arsenal and Liverpool on goal difference.
But Conte refuses to talk up his team’s title chances at this stage.
“We shouldn’t look at the table,” he added. “It’s important to improve game by game, to continue to trust in the work. These are the most important things now, not the table.
“In this league, there is great balance and in every game, anything can happen. You can win, but you can lose.”
Meanwhile, Southampton manager Claude Puel says he will carry on rotating his squad against Chelsea to keep them fresh following their midweek League Cup win over Sunderland.
Puel has been successfully tweaking his team as he juggles Southampton’s Premier League, Europa League and League Cup commitments.
And despite a series of defensive injuries, Saints are on an impressive run of one defeat in 10 matches in all competitions.
“I think it was important at the beginning to prepare all the players,” Puel said.
“We can see it is a good thing now, because we can keep good results.
“I hope we can recover some players for the future, for all the games, but of course to turn and to change the team often is important.”