Chelsea caretaker boss Roberto Di Matteo left out Ghana midfielder Michael Essien and other star players from the team that beat Birmingham on Tuesday night to advance in the FA Cup.
Di Matteo’s thoughts were with sacked manager Andre Villas-Boas after guiding a much-changed Blues team through to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup.
Di Matteo left Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, Michael Essien and Daniel Sturridge out of the starting line-up for last night’s 2-0 fifth-round replay win at Birmingham.
But he insists all the players were “on board” with his thinking as goals from Juan Mata and Raul Meireles sealed a last-eight meeting with Leicester at Stamford Bridge on 18 March.
Di Matteo said: “My thoughts tonight go to Andre, to our manager. We faced a difficult task today given all the events of the last couple of days.
“But the attitude was right, the commitment was right, the passion was there, the result was right.
“The important thing was to go through to the next round and show that we care, that we can fight for our club and supporters.”
When asked about leaving out some of Chelsea’s big-name players, the Italian said: “They were all on board. They know what targets we have to achieve. They are big players for this club.
“We have a squad and we have to utilise the squad because we played on Saturday and we have another game this Saturday.
“It was just a question of freshening up the team a bit, giving it some energy and fresh legs for a game like this. We knew we had to fight.”
A bonus for Di Matteo was the return to the bench – ahead of schedule – of skipper John Terry, just two weeks after undergoing knee surgery.
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