Belfast Telegraph

Chelsea boss Antonio Conte blames back injury for Diego Costa absence

Chelsea boss Antonio Conte has tried to play down Diego Costa's absence from the squad against Leicester by claiming the striker has a back injury.

Costa was not expected to feature in the game and his omission was officially confirmed when the club's team sheet was handed out at the King Power Stadium.

Press Association Sport understands the Spain international did not travel with the rest of the squad for the Premier League fixture on Saturday evening.

His future at Chelsea appears uncertain following reports this week that he had a disagreement with Conte and his coaching staff and has been training alone in recent days, amid rumours of a big-money offer from a Chinese Super League club.

Chelsea declined to comment on the story but Conte on Friday afternoon said he had some undisclosed doubts for the game against Leicester, mentioning no names or reasons for potential absences.

However, prior to kick-off at the King Power Stadium Conte did shed some light on Costa's absence via the club's Twitter account, saying Chelsea's leading scorer was nursing a back problem.

"On Tuesday, Diego stopped training with a pain in his back and then in the week he didn't train with us," said the Italian.

"We played without Diego against Bournemouth and we have had time to prepare for this. We've prepared very well."

While Costa did not travel to Leicester he expressed his support for his team-mates late on Friday night by posting a photo on Instagram from the Blues' win over Tottenham in November, along with the caption: "Come on Chelsea!!!", plus a heart emoji.

Costa has been prolific this season for a Chelsea side four points clear at the top of the Premier League ahead of kick-off at the King Power Stadium, scoring 14 goals in 19 Premier League games.

The Spain international signed a five-year deal on his arrival from Atletico Madrid in July 2014 for £32million, so has two and a half years left on his contract.

Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich would resist Costa agitating for a move. Replacing such a prolific goalscorer in January would be challenging and Costa's understudy Michy Batshuayi is yet to make a Premier League start.

Costa was repeatedly linked with a return to Atletico after being troubled by hamstring problems and disciplinary issues in his first two seasons at Stamford Bridge. He recently admitted he had wanted to leave, before stating he was happy.

He was many pundits' player of the championship at the halfway mark. His understanding with Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas, in particular, had troubled opponents to the extent Chelsea won 13 straight games until defeat at Tottenham on January 4.

Hazard played centrally, with Pedro and Willian either side, when Costa was suspended for the Boxing Day win over Bournemouth, and it looks like Conte has turned to the same players again at the King Power Stadium.

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