Fulham manager Felix Magath has explained his surprising decision to drop Lewis Holtby against Chelsea on Saturday.

Holtby was named on the bench at Craven Cottage despite being Fulham’s best player since joining on loan from Tottenham.

Fulham were beaten 3-1 by Chelsea and remain rooted to the bottom of the Premier League table. Holtby came on as a 62nd-minute substitute and Magath says the midfielder was left out of the starting line-up for tactical reasons.

The Fulham manager, who instead started Clint Dempsey, said: “We played against the Premier League leaders and we had to fight because they have better players. You have to prepare for a game where Chelsea will have control over the ball. Lewis is a player who is forward thinking, who is very skilful and can make good passes.

“Against Chelsea, you will not create many chances, nobody will. We fought very well in the first half. it worked as I expected it.”

Magath remains confident of keeping Fulham in the Premier League despite them being four points from safety with just 10 games remaining. They face second-bottom Cardiff on Saturday and Kieran Richardson feels the game in Wales will be crucial to their survival chances. He said: “Cardiff was always going to be a big one. It will be hard going there because they are fighting for survival, too. But after a result like Chelsea you can’t afford for your heads to go down.”

Fulham are without a win in the League since New Year’s Day but Richardson hopes £11million signing Kostas Mitroglou can score the goals to keep the club up – when he is fit.

Mitroglou, who was short of full fitness when he joined from Olympiakos in January, made his debut as a substitute against West Brom last weekend but was left out of the squad for the Chelsea game.

Magath expects Mitroglou will return against Cardiff and Richardson believes the 25-year-old can make a difference. Richardson added: “The club spent a lot of money on him and we are expecting him to do well. He is looking for his fitness but he is a good finisher. We need him as soon as possible. I hope he can make the difference for us.”