Chelsea vs Leicester: Antonio Conte defies 'special' Diego Costa as Claudio Ranieri looks to Champions League

Costa was gesticulating wildly at the bench, demanding to be substituted, but Conte refused

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The Independent Football

Antonio Conte made it clear to Diego Costa that it would be the manager not the striker who would decide on which substitutions Chelsea would make during a game after the Italian ignored his player’s request to be taken off during the 3-0 win over Leicester City here on Saturday.

Midway through the second half, with Chelsea 2-0 up, the striker, who scored the opener and was a booking away from being suspended for the league match against Manchester United, started gesticulating wildly at the bench demanding to be substituted. He was left on with Eden Hazard instead being withdrawn.

“I keep Costa on until the end because he is important for the team. He is a good personality, he is special. We need him in every moment of the game. I risk him because if he gets another yellow card he misses the next game. But he is important for the team.

“I decide every substitution. Always, I take the responsibility. I take the risk if he gets a yellow card or an injury.”

Conte was a ball of energy on the sidelines, gesticulating just as wildly as Costa but for 90 minutes. He said he was so demonstrative during matches because things can change quickly in football. “I know in football you are winning 2-0 and 15 minutes later you can be 3-2 down,” he said. “I always stay this way to maintain the right atmosphere for my players on the pitch. You are lucky because sometimes I can lose my voice and I can’t do the press conference. One match a week is easier for me.”

So was he happy not to be in Europe then? “No! I’m prepared to lose my voice to be in the Champions League.”

The Italian was delighted with the performance and the shape of the team who played with three at the back. “Our football in the first half was very good,” he said. “We had high intensity, with good passing between the lines, we created many chances to score. We were very aggressive with the ball. Today I’m pleased because I saw the things we were working on during the week in terms of the system.

Conte said the victory was for his midfielder Willian whose mother died this week. Both Hazard and Costa had also made supportive gestures when they scored. “I want to dedicate the performance and the win to Willy,” Conte said. “It is a bad and sad moment for him and also for us because we are very close as a family.”

Claudio Ranieri, whose Leicester side did not manage a shot on target, had no regrets about resting players despite his champions being so poor in the first half at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea were 2-0 up at half-time through goals from Costa and Hazard and it could have been more with David Luiz hitting the post. Leicester, for their part, were toothless and had Copenhagen in the Champions League on Tuesday in mind.

“Yes of course we did,” admitted Ranieri who started Riyad Mahrez and Islam Slimani on the bench. “The Premier League is one year long. The Champions League is two months. You want to go in the knockout stages. To achieve this you need all your players fit. I prefer to preserve my players for Tuesday night.

“I didn’t recognise my players in the first half,” admitted Ranieri. “I will speak to them, ask what happened, ask why. But it is better to happen now so we can react than at the end of the season.”

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Claudio Ranieri can barely watch as his Leicester team are beaten away again (Getty)

Leicester, who only lost three games last season, have now been beaten by a three-goal margin by Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United during this campaign. At Stamford Bridge – as they had at Old Trafford – they conceded from a corner and Ranieri admitted they must work harder at defending set-pieces.

“We made some mistakes,” the Italian said. “We must be more concentrated at corners. We tried to react and the second half was much better. We have to react because on Tuesday is the Champions League. I forgot the first 45 minutes already. They played so well and we conceded everything.”

Leicester were better in the second 45 minutes and could have got back into the match when Luiz put the ball against his own post. “We changed and the second half was much better,” Ranieri said. “I explained the model we have to use. Maybe if we had scored when Luiz hit the post we would have been back in the match. But it wasn’t true. Three-nil for them was very easy.

“Copenhagen are well organised,” he added looking forward to Tuesday. “We have to react or it could be a very bad match.”

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