Chelsea boss Antonio Conte has warned Eden Hazard that he could once again be deployed as a false nine - despite the attacker having publicly signalled his distaste for the role following the Blues' insipid outing in their defeat against Manchester City.
The Belgium international has been moved to a central role in Chelsea's recent clashes with Barcelona and City, but he was not overly fond of the change having proclaimed that he felt "he hadn’t played a game of football" and still would not have touched the ball even if the game went on for another "three hours."
The reigning Premier League champions are expected to restore a more traditional striker in their clash against Crystal Palace on Saturday, with Olivier Giroud a likely starter.
However, despite reverting to a more accepted formation, Conte admitted that Hazard could be restored to the role in the future should he see fit.
“If I think it’s right for the team to play in this way [with a false No 9], I will,” Conte said, as quoted by the Guardian.
Playing Hazard in a false 9 in this formation is basically like playing with 10 men (through no fault of his own). That’s the reality of this.— Simon Phillips (@SiPhillipsSport) March 4, 2018
“Otherwise I can play with a striker. Olivier has specific characteristics. He’s a strong player and has lots of physicality so in some games, it’s right to start with him. In other games, it’s right to start with Álvaro Morata.
"In others, it’s right to continue with Hazard as a No 9. The tactics [at City] were the same against Barcelona and after that game, I didn’t hear anyone complaining.”
Whilst feigning to be unaware of Hazard's criticism, when pushed on the issue he remained coy and refused to take aim at his players in public as he reflected on his own clash with a previous manager.
He added: "As you know very well, I don't like to reply to my players through the press. This is not my habit. I like to talk with the players face to face, or in meetings with all the players.
“I did this when I was a player once: at Juventus, with [Marcello] Lippi, we played a massive game against Parma when they were first and we were second. After the game, there was an international break and I gave an interview.
"The journalists asked me if I was happy. My stupid answer was: ‘We are winning but I’m not happy because I’m not enjoying the role the coach decided to give me.’
“When I came back to Turin Lippi killed me. He killed me in a bad way, in front of the players. He told me it was a lack of respect for my team-mates, first of all, and then for him, the club and the fans. After training the club fined me. And then, in the next game, I was on the bench.
"I’m talking about myself [not Hazard] but, up to that point in my career I was selfish. After that I started to think for the benefit of the team.”