Wednesday 20 February 2019

Chelsea hope to finalise Higuain deal in time to face Spurs

Gonzalo Higuain. Photo: PA
Gonzalo Higuain. Photo: PA

Matt Law

Maurizio Sarri is pinning his hopes on Gonzalo Higuain to revive Chelsea's season in what could prove a make-or-break move for the coach.

Sarri is hoping Chelsea can complete the loan signing by noon tomorrow, so that the striker will be available for the Carabao Cup semi-final second leg against Tottenham Hotspur on Thursday.

Former Chelsea coach Antonio Conte was told Higuain, then aged 28, was too old and too expensive when he suggested signing the Argentine before he joined Juventus for £75.3million in 2016.

But Chelsea have backed Sarri by agreeing to sign Higuain now, even though he is 31 and the initial four-month loan deal will cost more than £10m in fees and wages.

Higuain's form has declined since Chelsea first opted not to sign him. When Conte was interested, the former Real Madrid player had just scored 36 Serie A goals for Napoli while playing for Sarri. But he will arrive at Stamford Bridge on the back of just one goal in his past 12 appearances on loan at AC Milan.

Sarri wants Chelsea to seal the deal quickly. His squad need a boost following the 2-0 defeat by Arsenal, after which he attacked his own players by claiming they were "extremely difficult to motivate".

He believes Higuain can give Chelsea a fresh impetus and help Eden Hazard return to his best from his favoured position on the left.

But Sarri's reputation could be at stake over Higuain, with Chelsea acting against their instincts to sanction a deal which, sources in Italy claim, will be made permanent if the club win the Europa League or finish third or higher in the Premier League.

Chelsea will have the option of extending the loan for a further 12 months. The arrival of Higuain signals the end of Alvaro Morata's Chelsea career.

The Spaniard has joined Atletico Madrid on loan until the end of the season, with the option of a £48.5m permanent move. That would represent a loss of at least £8.5m for Chelsea, who signed Morata from Real Madrid in 2017. He has struggled to adapt to the more physical nature of the Premier League.

Chelsea signed Morata as a replacement for Diego Costa and the circumstances of the Spain international's departure are set to be a key part of Conte's looming legal case against the club.

Conte is taking Chelsea to court over the £9m he believes he is owed, following his sacking last July, and is working on two separate lawsuits, one public and one private, for unfair dismissal.

There were 12 months remaining on Conte's contract, worth about £9m a year, when he was dismissed ahead of Sarri's arrival.

All attempts of mediation have failed and both sides are now preparing their cases. Conte is out of work and yet to be paid a penny by Chelsea.

Conte has turned down an offer from Real Madrid and is concentrating on his legal case ahead of trying to return to management in time for next season.

It is believed Conte would be interested in the permanent Manchester United job, while Real could make another attempt to hire him.

Telegraph.co.uk

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