Friday 15 December 2017

Chelsea and Diego Costa's dispute remains unresolved on eve of new season

Chelsea head coach Antonio Conte kept his counsel on the club's transfer business ahead of the Premier League opener with Burnley
Chelsea head coach Antonio Conte kept his counsel on the club's transfer business ahead of the Premier League opener with Burnley

Chelsea and Diego Costa's dispute is no nearer to a resolution as the Blues begin their Premier League title defence in an apparent legal wrangle with the exiled striker.

Head coach Antonio Conte on Friday said there was "no news" on Costa and responded "I don't know" when asked when the striker might return to London.

A Chelsea spokesman intervened, saying: "Nothing to report on that."

Last week Chelsea dismissed as "nonsense" claims by a lawyer said to be representing Costa that Conte was forcing out last season's top scorer.

But Press Association Sport understands a legal process is ongoing and there is no appetite to discuss the striker.

Conte has said it was decided in January, with Costa and his agent, Jorge Mendes, that the Brazil-born Spain international signed from Atletico Madrid in July 2014 would leave Stamford Bridge this summer.

So far this summer Costa, according to his Instagram posts, has been in Brazil. His rumoured preference of a return to Atletico is complicated by their transfer embargo, which expires in January 2018.

Chelsea open their Premier League title defence against Burnley at Stamford Bridge on Saturday after a summer of speculation.

Conte's future was also shrouded in doubt after rumoured friction over Chelsea's transfer activity.

The Italian belatedly signed an improved two-year contract, but it was not an extension to his deal, which expires in 2019.

Conte said: "My state of mind is clear. At the moment I signed a new contract, and then I decided to stay, I decided to work for this club, and then to try to give every day 120 per cent.

"I'm doing my best every day."

Chelsea have been active in the transfer market, signing striker Alvaro Morata from Real Madrid, plus defender Antonio Rudiger, goalkeeper Willy Caballero and Tiemoue Bakayoko, the midfielder bought from Monaco before Nemanja Matic was sold to rivals Manchester United.

Conte led the Blues from 10th the previous campaign to the Premier League trophy last season.

He suggested few fancied Chelsea's title chances this time last year and not many would back the Blues now.

He added: "It was the same last season. Not one person believed Chelsea would win the title.

"This season, in this moment, I agree with these people who think this."

One of the reasons for Conte playing down expectations on Chelsea is the size of his squad ahead of a return to the Champions League.

It is something Conte has bemoaned, but Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger had an answer, pointing to Chelsea sending numerous players out on loan.

Former England captain turned pundit Alan Shearer, meanwhile, said there was "something brewing which isn't nice" at Stamford Bridge.

Conte said: "I'm not looking for sympathy of any coaches for this situation.

"The situation is clear. If the club decide to send on loan players for their development it's because these players are not ready to play for Chelsea."

Conte kept his counsel on Chelsea's transfer business, with the summer window open until August 31.

"My only task is to focus on the pitch," Conte said.

"The club is trying to do their best on the transfer market."

Morata was signed for a reported fee rising to £70 million and could make his Premier League debut against the Clarets.

An ankle knock Pedro sustained in the Community Shield penalty shootout loss to Arsenal could mean Morata will start alongside Michy Batshuayi, who scored the decisive goal in Chelsea's title success at West Brom in May.

Morata on Friday told Marca "they're already killing me" over scrutiny of his two pre-season games and his 15-minute cameo at Wembley, when he missed a penalty in the shootout.

Conte said the Spain striker needs time to bed in, while simultaneously outlining the importance of the leading forward in his team.

"He's starting to understand what I want (from) him during the game," Conte said.

"But he needs time to understand, to adapt to our style of football, above all for a striker.

"This role is more difficult to adapt than the other roles."

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