Mark Hughes has defended his team selection during Stoke City's 5-0 thrashing at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea.
The Potters' boss made six changes to the side that drew 1-1 with Huddersfield in their previous outing - which saw teenagers Tom Edwards and Josh Tymon come into the side - after Hughes admitted he prioritised Stoke's clash with Newcastle on New Year's Day over their game against the Champions.
Speaking to Sky Sports after the game, Hughes said: "We were stretched today - a little bit too much. We didn't have the tools to have a go at Chelsea. We're playing today, we're playing Monday. We've got injuries in key areas.
"That back four clearly hasn't played together, with two young full-backs. They found it difficult, which is understandable. It's a huge leap to what they're used to. At times they'll make mistakes and at this level you get punished. You have to factor that in and we understand that."
"We might get criticised for the selection. Sometimes you have to be pragmatic. Sometimes you have to make decisions that some may shy away from - that's my job. It was my decision to try and protect key players."
Despite the 5-0 defeat, Hughes turned his attention to 2018 and the importance of their upcoming run of games. He added: "We have to make sure we're right for Monday - it's a big game against Newcastle. If we can get maximum points out of that, then that means it's two wins and a draw from the Christmas period - that would be a good return."
Newcastle begin their 2018 with what now looks to be a crucial game for both Mark Hughes and his Stoke side as they look to claw themselves away from the threat of the relegation zone.