In a shocking revelation this week Diego Costa has been omitted from the Chelsea starting XI, and there is a chance the striker could be sold in the January transfer market. The ferocious forward, who has been so pivotal to the Blues’ success this season, has had his head turned by the big money of the Chinese Super League. Antonio Conte is furious, and could be set to up his search for a clinical replacement while the window is open.
To the surprise of most Chelsea fans, until now Costa has got on with his job this term professionally and without any controversy. With 14 goals and 5 assists after 20 games, the Spanish international was the firm favourite to claim the Golden Boot this year. But according to BBC Sport, the former Atletico Madrid man has had a major bust-up with the fitness coach at Stamford Bridge, and then Conte. This was all amidst rumours of a number of Chinese clubs reportedly offering Costa a salary of £30million-a-year to relocate to the east.
The player is under contract until 2019, but as was evident last season, if he isn’t happy his performances suffer. The astonishing money offered by the rich Asian league is enough to turn anyone’s head, though, and Yannick Bolasie believes that Costa “wouldn’t think twice” about making the switch.
Chelsea’s dominant position at the top of the table could come under threat of Conte doesn’t resolve this situation quickly. The Blues are odds on at 3/4 to win the Premier League, but Liverpool and the chasing pack are hot on their heels. Conte has said himself that he doesn’t believe summer singing Michy Batshuayi has fully adapted to the English game yet, and the Belgian is unlikely to lead the line regularly in Costa’s absence. Therefore, Conte is expected to seek reinforcements this month.
Rumours had previously been circulating that Conte wanted to bring Swansea City’s Fernando Llorente to London as backup for Costa. The World Cup winner worked with the Chelsea boss at Juventus (see video above), and according to the tabloids the Italian is keen on a reunion. But Llorente has only managed to muster 6 goals in 17 league appearances for the struggling Swans this season and would represent a downgrade on the prolific Costa. It is highly doubtful that the 31-year-old would be able to lead the charge towards the title on his own.
With the January transfer notoriously difficult, Conte may find his options limited. It is possible that the former Juventus boss will reignite his interest in Real Madrid’s Alvaro Morata, who was heavily linked with a move to England’s top flight in the summer. The striker has only started 6 La Liga games this season with another 6 substitute appearances, but has managed to bag 5 goals and 2 assists. At 24 years old, Morata could be an excellent acquisition for the future.
There is no doubt that the Costa situation has thrown a spanner in the works for Chelsea, but at least it has happened while Conte is able to seek replacements. There is also a chance that Batshuayi, who was prolific in Ligue 1 last season, may take this opportunity to step up and show the manager what he is made of.