Monday 21 August 2017

Antonio Conte has already identified Diego Costa's long-term successor at Chelsea

Alvaro Morata
Alvaro Morata

Matt Law

Diego Costa returned to first-team training on Tuesday, but Chelsea head coach Antonio Conte has already identified Alvaro Morata as his preferred long-term successor.

Conte and Costa put last week’s bust-up behind them as the striker declared himself fit enough to re-join first-team training and attempt to win his place back.

But, as reported by Telegraph Sport, the truce is set to be temporary with Costa expected to leave Chelsea at the end of the season.

Conte tried to sign Morata last summer when Costa wanted to go back to Atletico Madrid and Chelsea will now attempt to line up the Real Madrid man for a move to England once again.

Tianjin Quanjin have confirmed they made an offer for Costa, which was worth £30million-a-year net and turned the Spain international’s head, but also confirmed that Chelsea will not sell their top scorer until the end of the Premier League season.

Tianjin owner Shu Yuhui has suggested his club cannot wait until the summer for Costa, but there will be plenty of Chinese interest in him and Atletico could launch another bid to take him back to Spain.

It can, of course, only be seen as a coincidence that Costa has returned to full training just a day after the Chinese Football Association confirmed an amendment to its competition rules to limit spending on foreign players.

Costa had not trained with the Chelsea first-team squad since last Tuesday when he complained of back pain that sparked a row with fitness coach Julio Tous and then Conte.

The 28 year-old trained alone on Sunday and Monday, but, having been assessed by Chelsea medics on Tuesday morning, was back with Conte and the squad for an afternoon session as they prepare for Sunday’s game against Hull City at Stamford Bridge. He even shared a conciliatory embrace with Tous.

Conte will spend this week assessing Costa’s fitness, attitude and state of mind before deciding whether to put him back into his starting line-up, but will offer the player no guarantees after Eden Hazard, Pedro Rodriguez and Willian all performed well against Leicester City.

Revealing a meeting with Costa’s agent Jorge Mendes, Tianjin chief Shu said: “I made an appointment with Mendes and he came to my hometown to visit me. At that time, we were interested in signing Costa.

“PSG told us Cavani would only be allowed to leave in June, even though the player himself was willing to join us.

“The same can be said for Costa because Chelsea would only let him leave in June. However, the new season of the Chinese Super League will almost reach the halfway stage in June, we can't wait so long.”

A change in the rules means Chinese clubs will only be able to field three foreign players per game when the new season starts.

“This situation has brought a change to our signing plans,” said Shu. “We continue to wait and suffer, but at the end of the day we'll get someone. We have targeted a lot of strikers, and made an offer for Benzema, but with this policy change, we are very helpless.”

Real Madrid refused to sell Morata to Chelsea last summer after exercising their buy-back clause to re-sign him from Juventus.

But the 24-year-old, who Conte signed for Juve before taking over as the manager of the Italian national team, has only started six La Liga games for Real this season, scoring five goals.

Other than Morata, Chelsea remain keen on their former striker Romelu Lukaku, but Everton’s £70m valuation would need to come down.

Apart from being forced to start planning for their summer business, Chelsea remain in the market to add to their squad during this month’s transfer window.

Conte would like to boost his striking options by signing Fernando Llorente from Swansea City and wants to strengthen his midfield options with Atalanta’s Franck Kessie one of Chelsea’s targets.

Telegraph.co.uk

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