Belfast Telegraph

Antonio Conte keen to keep Chelsea squad intact

Antonio Conte wants to keep his Chelsea squad together and hopes John Obi Mikel will be the last player to leave 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 £52million 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 finishes with Mikel and Oscar.

" Now, I would like to keep all the players because I think we are building the right spirit with these players."

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

Wednesday's defeat at Tottenham, which ended a 13-game winning run in the league, has not changed Conte's or Chelsea's thinking for the transfer window.

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.

"It is important for us - for me, for the club - don't live the emotion of the moment.

"If we find the right solution to improve our squad for sure we go in the market.

"If there won't be this possibility we stay with these players, and these players show me we are top of the table and we know it will be very difficult to keep this position but if we want (to) we can."

Conte said Zouma and striker Michy Batshuayi will start Sunday'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 Premier League, could play alongside Costa. Conte will make a final decision after Saturday's training session.

"I have a good opportunity in this game to see Michy from the start," Conte said.

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

Conte had previously dismissed the prospect of Batshuayi leaving on loan and on Friday told the Belgian to seize his opportunity.

"Now it is important for him to be concentrated on Sunday's game," Conte added.

"It is important to see the present, not too far (ahead). It is important to be focused, to play very well and show me he is into our idea of football.

"He has the time to show me he deserves to play."

Conte insists the Blues will not take Peterborough lightly and want to respond from their first league loss since September.

"One defeat is enough for us now," Conte added.

"In every game our mentality must be that we have to try to win every game. FA Cup or league, (it) doesn't change.

"I want always the same mentality, the right mentality, a winning mentality."

Two years ago League One Bradford came from two goals down to beat a Chelsea side which went on to win the Premier League title.

Asked if Conte would settle for the same scenario, he said he would consider it if the league title could be guaranteed.

Chelsea technical director Michael Emenalo this week said Conte could stay "forever".

Conte knows football is fickle.

"I remember only three months ago that someone said that the club wanted to sack me," Conte added.

"In football you can change your opinion quickly. I'm in a great club and I want to stay for a long period.

"I hope to have a good path with Chelsea and to continue to work, to improve my players, to try to win trophies."

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