Chelsea boss Antonio Conte played down suggestions of a rift with defender David Luiz after his side ignited their Premier League title bid with victory over Manchester United.
Record signing Alvaro Morata proved the match-winner in the second half as fourth-placed Chelsea moved to within a point of United in second, although remain nine adrift of runaway leaders Manchester City.
Conte described Luiz as “one of the best defenders in Europe” in April but omitted the 30-year-old from his matchday squad against United, preferring rookie centre-half Andreas Christensen in a back three, which raised questions over the Brazilian’s long-term future at the club.
“The coach has to make the best decision for the team, and tonight the best decision for the team was to play with Christensen and to have, on the bench, [Ethan] Ampadu,” said Conte.
“Maybe in the future I can decide a different way, or continue in this way. That’s normal. I must take the best decision for the club, not for a single player.
“It was only a tactical decision. It’s normal. This can happen to every one of my players, if I see that they are not in good form.”
Despite suffering a second defeat in three matches, which saw United slip eight points behind their city rivals, Mourinho insists the Red Devils are still in the hunt for a first top-flight title since 2013.
“Eight points in the Premier League is not the same as eight points in the Portuguese league, La Liga or the Bundesliga,” said Mourinho. “I feel in the busy period in late November, December and beginning of January, I think we probably will be in our maximum strength.”
After the frostiest of pre-match handshakes between Conte and Mourinho, the clash started at a simmering pace and an early Phil Jones own goal was chalked off for a push in the back by Morata.
With Mourinho’s parked bus nowhere to be seen, Marcus Rashford wasted a headed chance and Tiemoue Bakayoko a close-range opportunity before Romelu Lukaku spun and forced Thibaut Courtois into a low save.
A thunderous shot from Eden Hazard was then repelled by David de Gea before a period of relative calm following the blistering opening ensued. Christensen, however, did fail to convert a free header from a Cesc Fabregas corner shortly before half-time.
Hazard missed the clearest of sights at goal seven minutes into the second period as the unmarked Belgian playmaker found only the midriff of De Gea from 12 yards following Fabregas’s flighted cross.
But the deadlock was broken moments later when Morata ghosted into oceans of space to meet Cesar Azpilicueta’s ball into the box and spear a pinpoint header into the top corner of De Gea’s net.
It was the 25-year-old’s first goal in seven appearances for the Blues, since his Champions League strike against Atletico Madrid on 27 September.
United barely flickered in the second half until Rashford lashed wide and substitute Marouane Fellaini forced Courtois into evasive action inside the final five minutes. Morata made a hash of being sent through by Willian late on but one goal proved enough.