Benching Willian was a fantastic decision, boasts Chelsea boss Conte
Antonio Conte insists he made "a fantastic choice" when he restored Willian to Chelsea's starting line-up against Barcelona after dropping him in the Premier League.
The 29-year-old has only made 13 starts in the top flight this season, his last in the shock 4-1 defeat to Watford on February 5, and he played only 10 minutes in the 3-0 win over West Brom a week later.
The Brazil international returned to the XI for the first leg of the Champions League last-16 tie with Barcelona on Tuesday and repaid Conte with a standout display, in which he hit the post twice before scoring the opening goal in the 1-1 draw.
Willian admitted afterwards he is not happy when he is forced to sit on the bench, but Conte became irked by the suggestion he does not play the midfielder as often as he deserves.
The Chelsea boss told a Friday news conference: "Do you think that I am stupid when I put Willy on the bench? I have to try and make the best decision for the team, no? Maybe last season we won the title, or did I forget something?
"Now he is playing because he deserves to play, but not because there is some regret from the past. If a player deserves to play and shows me during the training session that he is on top of his form, and wants to work defensively, he plays. If not, stay on the bench, stay in the stands.
"This is not only for one player, but for all my players. This is what a winning mentality is: not if one player is happy or if he is not happy if he doesn't play. It doesn't matter. I have to make the best decision for the team. He is playing now and I am very happy with my choice.
"Willian deserved to start in the previous game, and played well. I did a fantastic choice, and I want to take credit for that."
Willian is expected to be involved on Sunday when Chelsea visit Old Trafford, where they will look for a win that will take them level on points with second-place Manchester United.
The match will see Nemanja Matic face his old club for the second time since his reported £40million move last July.
The Serbia international has largely impressed under Jose Mourinho, although his form has deteriorated in the second half of the season, while Tiemoue Bakayoko – whose arrival at Chelsea prompted Matic's departure – has struggled to make a positive impact.
Conte admits he would rather Matic had not been sold to a direct rival.
"About this player I can talk only really well, because he played with us last season," he said. "I think he was one of the key players in winning the title. Now Matic, unfortunately, is playing for Manchester United. I wish for him the best. Not on Sunday, but in the future."
When asked why his move to United was allowed, Conte replied: "In the past, we have already managed this topic. I don't want to come back and speak about the past because I think it's not important, not interesting for us."