Antonio Conte has confirmed Branislav Ivanovic is back available for the Chelsea trip to Southampton on Sunday (30 October) but the game with still come too early for Cesc Fabregas. Meanwhile, the Italian boss has failed to confirm whether John Terry will remain in his starting line-up after the captain returned to action during the EFL Cup midweek 2-1 defeat at West Ham.
Ivanovic and Fabregas are yet to play a game since the humiliating defeat to Arsenal due to different muscle injuries, having since missed the three Premier League consecutive victories over Hull, Leicester and Manchester United and as well the EFL Cup game with the Hammers.
Conte had suggested in recent days that the Chelsea duo could return to action imminently but has now confirmed that only the Serbian right-back has been passed fit for the trip to Southampton.
"Fabregas is not available but Ivanovic is fully recovered," Conte confirmed in the press conference ahead of the game. "Apart from that all players are available, then I have to make the best decision on the starting 11."
The manager faced another major selection dilemma over Terry as David Luiz, Gary Cahill and Cesar Azpilicueta had excelled in the new Conte 3-man defence during the absence of the Chelsea legend. Furthermore, whether because of the new formation or because the lack of match fitness, Terry didn't enjoy his best night against West Ham.
"I don't like to talk about individual players and their performances. We win together and lose together. John was coming back from an injury and it's not easy to start quickly and adjust to the shape, but I'm satisfied with him and the team," Conte said after he deployed a much-changed line-up in the EFL Cup encounter. "We wanted to win and continue in the cup but it didn't happen, which is a pity. On Sunday we have another tough game so now we must stay concentrated on this game."
Yet, the Italian dropped a hint over his intentions after pointing out that the importance of the Captain in the Chelsea dressing room goes beyond whether he plays or not.
"John is an important player for us whether he plays or not, around the changing room, for his team-mates and the club. What's important is the team. I have to always make the best decision for the team and never for an individual player," he said.
The Blues will travel to Southampton in the fourth position of the Premier League table following their impressive 4-0 victory over Manchester United, being only one point behind Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool. Conte thus urges his players to move on from the EFL Cup elimination in order to continue their recent good run in the league.
"This league is very difficult because in every game anything can happen. For this reason it's important to get consistency in results and performances," Conte said ahead of the trip to Southampton, who are only six point behind Chelsea and in the eight place of the table.
"There are five teams who are very close but we shouldn't look at the table, we must be focused on our work on the pitch. It's too early to talk about the table or the title. We must improve game by game and trust in the work, that's the most important thing.'