Belfast Telegraph

Chinese exodus needs to stop with Mikel, says Blues manager

By Matt McGeehan

Antonio Conte hopes John Obi Mikel will be the last player to swap Chelsea for China.

Mikel on Friday joined Tianjin TEDA, following former team-mate Oscar to the Chinese Super League after the Brazilian signed for Shanghai SIPG for £52m last month.

Nigeria midfielder Mikel, who failed to break into the side under Conte this season, spent 10 years at Stamford Bridge, making 374 appearances and winning 11 trophies.

Striker Diego Costa, who has scored 14 goals this season to lead Chelsea's march to the top of the Premier League, has been among the names linked with a move to China.

Blues head coach Conte said: "I hope this offer from China finish with Mikel and Oscar.

"I think that it's important now to remain with this squad."

Conte says Chelsea are still looking to buy in the difficult winter transfer market, but are "not close" to recruiting anyone.

And he ruled out the need to sign another central defender, with Kurt Zouma available again following a long-term knee injury.

"I don't think we need another central defender, no," Conte said.

Conte said Zouma and striker Michy Batshuayi will start tomorrow's FA Cup third round tie with Peterborough at Stamford Bridge. Captain John Terry is also expected to start.

Batshuayi, a £33m summer signing from Marseille yet to start in the league, could play alongside Costa. Conte will make a final decision after today's training.

"I have a good opportunity in this game to see Michy from the start," Conte said. "I think it's important. He's working a lot. I'm seeing that he's improving.

"Sunday for him, but also for other players, could be a good opportunity to show me that he deserves to play more in future."

Chelsea are seeking to respond from their 13-game Premier League winning run coming to an end with defeat at Tottenham on Wednesday night. It was their first league loss since the September defeats to Liverpool and Arsenal.

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