Belfast Telegraph

Diego Costa's future at Chelsea thrown into doubt: Chelsea striker dropped 'after dispute over fitness with coach'

Player linked with a move to the Chinese Super League

Diego Costa's future at Chelsea was thrown into doubt after he was left out of the squad for Saturday's Premier League clash at Leicester.

Press Association Sport understands Costa has not travelled with the rest of the squad for the Saturday evening fixture.

The Blues declined to comment on reports that the 28-year-old striker had had a disagreement with head coach Antonio Conte and his coaching staff and has been training alone this week.

Conte on Friday afternoon said he had some undisclosed doubts for the game, but mentioned no names or reasons for potential absences.

He was also asked about Dimitri Payet telling West Ham he wanted a move.

"I read about this situation," Conte said.

"It's very difficult for me to talk about another player, of another team.

"For my club, for my players to solve our problem if there are problems, it's important."

Costa has been prolific this season for a Chelsea side five points clear at the top of the table entering this weekend's fixtures, scoring 14 goals in 19 Premier League games.

Earlier this month he was linked with a move to the Chinese Super League, with the accompanying astronomical wages.

It was rumoured Tianjin Quanjian were prepared to bid £80million and Costa's future could be the main talking point of the winter transfer window, which closes on January 31.

Costa signed a five-year deal on his arrival from Atletico Madrid in July 2014 for £32m, so has two-and-a-half years to run.

Chelsea and 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.

Conte ignored Costa's request to be substituted in the October win over Leicester at Stamford Bridge.

Afterwards, the Italian said: "If I can, Costa I keep him until the end.

"I can take the risk about this, for a yellow card or for injury. I decide.

"Costa is an important player to us. We need his passion in every moment of the game."

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.

Costa helped Chelsea to the Premier League title in his first campaign in England, but was poor as the Blues title defence ended in a 10th-placed finish last term.

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He was also among the players blamed by a section of Chelsea supporters when Jose Mourinho was sacked by the Blues for a second time in December 2015.

He appeared to have overcome his fitness and disciplinary issues under Conte, with whom his relationship appeared strong.

The 28-year-old 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 the loss 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. It is likely Conte will turn to Hazard once again.

The trip to Leicester is Chelsea's first Premier League game since the defeat at Spurs and comes after a FA Cup third-round win over Peterborough, when Costa was an unused substitute after Conte made nine changes to rotate his options.

Former Liverpool and Newcastle manager Graeme Souness reckons Chelsea "cannot afford" to lose Costa.

"They cannot afford to lose him," Souness told Sky Sports News.

"From the club's side it's the very last thing Chelsea need. He's the leading scorer in the Premier League now - lose him and they aren't going to win the Premier League. That's how important he is."

Several Blues players have left Stamford Bridge and ended up in China, with Nicolas Anelka, Didier Drogba, Demba Ba, Ramires and Oscar all heading east - as well as former Blues boss Andre Villas Boas.

On the spending power of Chinese clubs, Souness added: "Teams in China come knocking with those type of numbers... this may not be the last time we see this situation."

Belfast Telegraph Digital


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