Thursday 18 January 2018

Conte will force Costa to prove himself all over again

Diego Costa Picture: PA
Diego Costa Picture: PA

Matt Law

Antonio Conte has no plans to seek out Diego Costa for special peace talks and will make the striker prove himself again before restoring him to the Chelsea line-up.

But even if Costa redoubles his efforts and wins back his starting place, Conte is still likely to sanction his sale in the summer and allow the player to cash in on Chinese interest. Having missed the victory over Leicester City, Costa trained on his own on Sunday and yesterday and will have the back pain that sparked last week's bust-up assessed today.

Conte talks regularly with his squad and maintains an open-door policy for his players but he has not set aside time to summon Costa for a heart-to-heart.

Any peace meeting or apology would need to be instigated by Costa, who has been urged to back down by team-mates.

Conte intends to assess Costa's fitness, performance and state of mind in training this week before deciding whether he will play against Hull City on Sunday.

Rather than cancel a scheduled day off with his family to speak to Costa in private, Conte again allowed the player to stew on his actions of last week and train alone at Chelsea's Cobham base.

Conte has made it clear the days of the 'untouchables' at Chelsea are long gone and he has the full backing of owner Roman Abramovich and the club's board to deal with Costa how he sees fit.

Chelsea players have been known to go to Abramovich or look for help from the board in the past, but Conte is in full control of squad matters and will have the final say over Costa.

Abramovich does not want to sell Costa this month and weaken Conte's squad as they chase the Premier League title after Chelsea's top scorer had his head turned by a £30m-a-year net offer from a Chinese club, thought to be Tianjin Quanjian.

But Conte is expected to give the green light to Costa's sale in the summer, when he can bring in a top-class replacement. Conte tried to sign Alvaro Morata and Romelu Lukaku last summer, and both will feature prominently among his targets to replace Costa. Chelsea are also among the clubs monitoring whether Alexis Sanchez signs a new deal at Arsenal.

Chelsea had hoped to agree a new contract with Costa this season, but there is a growing acceptance that the best-case scenario for both parties would be to accept a temporary solution for the remainder of this season and then go their separate ways. Costa is 28 so selling him for around £80m would represent very good business for Chelsea.

In the short term, Costa faces a battle to win back his starting place in Conte's team after Eden Hazard, Pedro and Willian all performed well in Chelsea's victory over Leicester.

Costa is the Premier League's joint top scorer with 14 goals but Conte is clear that his players have to earn their places each week in training. He has already proved that he is not scared to leave out star players and big personalities, as he has with captain John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic and Cesc Fabregas.


Other than Costa, another striker who looks to be one his way out of Chelsea is young contract rebel Dominic Solanke.

Solanke stunned Chelsea by demanding £50,000-a-week and first-team assurances last year, and talks aimed at finding a compromise have once again broken down.

The 19-year-old is understood to have told friends that he will quit Stamford Bridge when his contract expires at the end of the season.

Solanke trained with Conte's first team for part of this season and appeared on the bench as Chelsea attempted to resolve the stand-off with the player. But he has since dropped back down to the U-23s and rejected another contract offer before negotiations hit another impasse.

Chelsea will be due compensation, which could be as high as £5m , if Solanke joins another English club but the England U-21 international is free to speak to foreign clubs this month. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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