Antonio Conte believes the Football Association have shown “great respect” to Manchester United by arranging their FA Cup quarterfinal against Chelsea for Monday evening, and has hinted that he will pick his strongest team for the match.
Chelsea have enjoyed a full week to prepare for Monday’s game at Stamford Bridge while United endured a 16-hour round trip to Rostov, where they secured a 1-1 draw in the first leg of their Europa League round-of-16 tie on Thursday.
But Conte insists the Monday date ensures that fatigue from the trip and the match will not be an issue for United, particularly as he regards Jose Mourinho’s squad as deeper and more talented than his own.
Asked if he believed Mourinho will rest players at Stamford Bridge following their Europa League exertions, Conte said: “No, I don’t think so. There are four days to recover, and this game is an important game for us, for them. I think their formation will be very good.
“Also because, I repeat, United and [Manchester] City have the best squads in this league — for the number of players in their squad. The number of quality, also.”
Pressed on whether the Rostov trip will have any bearing on Monday’s match, Conte added: “I don’t know. But I repeat, we could play also Sunday, or Saturday, if the federation [FA] decided it.
“But we are playing on Monday. I think that the federation showed great respect for Manchester United to play the last day available [for] the FA Cup. I think this.”
Conte has made wholesale changes to his starting XI for every round of Chelsea’s FA Cup run so far, but has intimated that the presence of United as opponents this time will prompt him to stick with the players that have propelled the Blues 10 points clear at the top of the Premier League.
“When you arrive at this level of the FA Cup, it’s a top competition for all so, for this reason, I want to make the best decision for the game against United,” he said. “We didn’t play during the week. We have to play Monday and Monday, and then we play on Saturday. I don’t see the necessity to rest people. Also because, I repeat, United will do the same [field a strong team] against us.”
Asked if he had given assurances to high-profile fringe players such as John Terry and Asmir Begovic that they will continue their run of FA Cup appearances, Conte said: “No. I didn’t promise anything in the FA Cup. Nothing. I didn’t promise nothing to anyone.”
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