Antonio Rudiger has said he was "probably" dropped from the Chelsea squad at Southampton as punishment for appearing to criticise coach Antonio Conte's tactics.
Germany international Rudiger was replaced by Andreas Christensen in the starting XI and not on the bench despite being fully fit, with Conte saying it was a "tactical decision."
Last week Rudiger told Sky Sports he did not "understand why after 1-0 we always drop and let the opponent get more ball possession" after Chelsea were held 1-1 draw by West Ham at Stamford Bridge.
And while Rudiger told ZDF he had not intended his comment to be a direct criticism of Conte. he admitted it was the likeliest explanation for his demotion from the team.
Asked whether he thought he had been left out because of his comments, Rudiger said: "Probably. But I didn't mean it that way.
"It was a fact, it wasn't about the tactics. I did not attack anyone personally, I meant us as a team."
Rudiger said he was "a bit" surprised to have been omitted and added: "I think that I played quite a lot of games in recent weeks and months. This was a little break."
On the nature of his relationship with Conte, he said: "It's just normal from my side. He's my coach. I must respect him. And he's a very, very good coach."
Chelsea fought back from two goals down to beat Southampton 3-2, but it is likely to be too late to secure a top-four finish in the Premier League.
The FA Cup appears the only chance for Chelsea to salvage a disappointing season, with Southampton their semifinal opponents on Sunday, and Rudiger said the players owed their fans success.
"Not winning it would not be worthy of Chelsea," he said. "It's a very, very big club in England and the fans always expect you to win something.
"I think it would be a good reconciliation [with the supporters] with the FA Cup."