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Antonio Conte said he took Eden Hazard off for purely tactical reasons during Chelsea’s defeat against Manchester United.
The Blues lost 2-1 at Old Trafford, where Hazard was excellent in the first half but struggled in the second before being replaced by Pedro.
Asked if Hazard had picked up an injury, Blues boss Conte said: “No, it was a tactical decision. You have to keep the same performance for 90 minutes, otherwise we don’t have a great balance.
“I think he had finished his energy. In the first half he ran a lot.
“When I see a player is tired then it’s my task to change the situation and find the right solution.”
The result left Chelsea fifth in the Premier League, behind rivals Tottenham, who won at Crystal Palace earlier in the day. It also left them six points behind second-placed United.
Conte admitted that his side are now in serious danger of failing to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
“This could be a possibility for sure – I am repeating this same concept many times,” he said.
“To find the place in the Champions League is not simple. In this country the competition is very hard.
“There is the risk to stay out of the Champions League. We must be ready to fight for this important target.”