Belfast Telegraph

Conte playing down Costa rumours as Chelsea extend lead

Leicester City 0 Chelsea 3

By Sean Taylor

Antonio Conte thinks it is important Chelsea have demonstrated they can win without Diego Costa.

The Blues extended their lead at the top of the Premier League to seven points with a comfortable 3-0 victory against Leicester on Saturday, courtesy of two goals from Marcos Alonso and another from Pedro.

Following reports this week that Costa had a disagreement with the Chelsea boss and his coaching staff amid rumours of a big-money offer from a Chinese Super League club, the 28-year-old was left out of the squad at the King Power Stadium. However, Conte insisted his leading goalscorer did not travel because of a back problem.

Nevertheless, Chelsea made light work of Costa's absence as Eden Hazard played centrally, with Pedro and Willian either side of him - as they had done with equal success against Bournemouth on Boxing Day when Costa was suspended.

"I think it's important to have another plan, to play without a number nine is another solution. It is important," said Conte.

"We show it against Bournemouth and again we play without a number nine and we won the games 3-0 and 3-0. It is important always to play as a team and then to have a different solution is important for me and for the team.

"Also because sometimes it is important to change, you plan part way through a championship. Now we have started the second part of the season and every game now the points are very heavy, they mean a lot for all the teams. Now we stay on top of the table and if you win you put pressure on the other teams.

"But we started our game with a bit of pressure after Tottenham's victory and we must show good experience to manage this situation because we have just started the second part of the season and it is very important not to lose a point, to take three points in every game."

Despite the defeat, Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri felt his team played well and he was pleased to see his players adapt to another new formation.

"I'm happy with the performance - we tried to do our best," said the former Chelsea boss.

"Of course, I'm not happy that we conceded a goal at the beginning of the first half and the beginning of the second half, but if you take out those two goals, the match was good for us.

"We closed the space, we mirrored Chelsea with a 3-5-2 and it was good. We are used to playing 4-4-2 but we won 4-3-3 at Everton. This was different again but then it is important the team can change and understand. I am happy.

"We were expecting something special from Hazard, Pedro or Willian and maybe we didn't expect Alonso to score the goals. But that's football when you play against big champions."

• RANGERS were hammered 4-0 by Red Bull Leipzig in yesterday's friendly in Germany, where Timo Werner (2), Oliver Burke and Yussuf Poulsen netted for the hosts.

 

LEICESTER: Schmeichel, Morgan, Huth (Okazaki, 59 mins), Fuchs, Chilwell, Mendy, Drinkwater, Ndidi, Albrighton (Simpson, 76 mins), Musa (Gray, 71 mins), Vardy. Unused subs: Zieler, Wasilewski, King, Kapustka.

CHELSEA: Courtois, Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Cahill, Moses, Kante, Matic, Alonso, Willian (Batshuayi, 83 mins), Hazard (Fabregas, 78 mins), Pedro (Loftus-Cheek, 83 mins). Unused subs: Begovic, Ivanovic, Zouma, Chalobah.

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