Cahill set to face Hull despite upset over Mason's retirement
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte has no qualms about starting Gary Cahill in tonight's English FA Cup fifth-round tie against Hull City.
Cahill is understood to be devastated about Hull's Ryan Mason retiring from football this week, one year on from the head injury he suffered in a collision with Cahill at Stamford Bridge.
But Conte made clear at his press conference yesterday that Cahill was blameless and that injuries are an unfortunate part of the game.
Tonight's match will be Hull's first since Mason made his announcement last Tuesday that he was retiring on medical advice.
He has not played since fracturing his skull on January 22 last year in an accidental collision trying to head the ball.
Cahill is likely to feature for Chelsea, having been on the bench for Monday's victory over West Brom, and Conte has no worries about the England centre-back's mentality or focus after a difficult time.
"This is a question for Gary, but at the same time, I think it's OK," Conte said.
"We are talking about a top player, no? For his commitment, his behaviour during, before, and after the game.
"This type of situation can happen. I was a player and I understand it.
"When I was 16 my team-mate broke my leg and risked my whole career. It was an unlucky situation.
"Gary is a fantastic guy, a fantastic person. He must be OK because it's not his fault."
Conte, who witnessed the incident, offered his condolences to Mason yesterday, saying: "To stop your career at such a young age, it's a pity. This news is bad news for us. We are very sad.
"The players and the club wish him and his family the best for the present, the best for the future."
Mason is not expected to attend tonight's FA Cup tie, but Chelsea are planning to invite him to a future fixture in a gesture of solidarity with the midfielder, whose injury provoked memories of that suffered by their former goalkeeper Petr Cech more than a decade earlier.
Mason's parents are Stamford Bridge season-ticket holders and attended the game last January, accompanying their son to hospital after he was taken off the field on a stretcher and into a waiting ambulance.
Conte revealed he would make several changes for tonight's game, which comes before a run of fixtures that includes matches at Manchester United and Manchester City in between two against Barcelona.
Confirming that Timou Bakayoko, David Luiz and Ross Barkley were out injured and that youngsters such as Ethan Ampadu, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Dujon Sterling, Trevoh Chalobah and Kyle Scott could play some part, he said: "We have in front of us two weeks that are very tough.
"For this reason, I think it's right to have a programme, to have a plan, to face these two tough weeks in the right way.
"But, at the same time, we want to try to go through to the next round in the FA Cup."
Meanwhile, Leicester captain Wes Morgan could make his return from injury against Sheffield United in tonight's other fifth-round tie.
The central defender has been out since suffering a hamstring injury on New Year's Day.
Chelsea v Hull City,
Live BT Sport 2, 8.0
Leicester v Sheffield Utd,
Live eir Sport 1, 7.45
Independent News Service