Antonio Conte made the surprising decision to remove David Luiz from his match-day squad as Chelsea took on Manchester United at Stamford Bridge, after reports of a bust-up between the pair.
The Italian was said to be furious with the attitude of his side during a humiliating 3-0 defeat to Roma and the Brazilian defender was sacrificed for the crunch Premier League clash.
With Manchester City beating Arsenal to move 12 points ahead of Conte’s side ahead of the clash at Stamford Bridge, it was vital for Chelsea to at the very least avoid defeat if they were to have any serious ambitions of a title charge.
Alvaro Morata’s second-half strike was enough to snatch all three points but a clean sheet will have gone down well with the Italian.
Here we take a look at how they coped in the absence of regular centre-back Luiz.
How did they set up?
Azpilicueta dropped back into the back-three, having spent some time at wing-back in the absence of Victor Moses, with Zappacosta starting in the wider role.
Christensen operated at the heart of the three, with captain Cahill on the left side and Marcos Alonso deployed in the left wing-back role.
How did they cope defensively?
With Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford both dangerously lurking in behind, Chelsea’s defence had to be on guard at all times.
Aside from Rashford ghosting in behind and lob Courtois with a header, which agonisingly landed on top of the net, and Lukaku spinning sharply and forcing a smart stop from the Belgian from the edge of the area, Chelsea looked largely well assured in the opening exchanges.
Azpilicueta impressively fought the powerful Belgium international striker well in the air, while Christensen was alive to the danger whenever Rashford burst from deep.
With 30 minutes left, Rudiger replaced Zappacosta with Azpilicueta shifting into the right wing-back role and the defence remained well organised.
Was Luiz missing a big factor in the game?
While Luiz’s absence was the main talking point prior to kick-off, N’Golo Kante’s return was the truly important thing for Chelsea.
Doing all the dirty work in midfield, he made life much easier for the back-three – something that would have been the case if Luiz was playing or not.
Azpilicueta’s return to the back-three was also a big boost. The Spaniard appears far more comfortable inside than as a wing-back and added to Chelsea’s resolve.
With the Blues certainly looking tighter at the back than in recent weeks, Luiz’s lack of involvement was perhaps not obviously felt, and Azpilicueta’s beautiful ball from deep for Morata’s opener even made the argument Luiz’s long ball ability look fairly redundant.
Conte won’t necessarily be rushing to hand him a recall.