Antonio Conte is adamant the speculation over the future of Diego Costa has had no impact on the unity and spirit of Premier League title-chasing Chelsea.
Costa, who has scored 14 league goals in 19 appearances, missed last weekend’s win at Leicester with a back injury amid reports of a bust-up with Conte and his backroom staff.
The 28-year-old has also been linked with a move to the Chinese Super League, but is in contention to return at home against Hull on Sunday. Conte believes a collective will is imperative and says Chelsea have it, despite the uncertainty over Costa’s future, which may have passed, for now.
“I found the same atmosphere we had before his injury,” Conte said.
“If you want to win something during the season it’s important to create this unity in the team. We’re showing this. We’re top of the table this is one of the most important things. I’m pleased to see this unity in my team.”
Conte, since his arrival last July, has masterminded a rejuvenation at Chelsea, who were 10th last season after imploding towards the end of Jose Mourinho’s second spell as boss.
“You create this spirit day by day with work, with the decisions, with the behaviours – my behaviours, players’ behaviours. To try to build this day by day, step by step. Also you must know that you put a lot of time to create this. It’s not easy.”
Costa’s selection – for what would be his 100th Chelsea appearance – is not guaranteed. However, his only two absences in the Premier League this season were when he was unavailable – suspended against Bournemouth and injured last week.
Eden Hazard played the central role in a front three with Pedro and Willian against Leicester, and Chelsea won 3-0, just as they did against the Cherries on Boxing Day. Pedro was the odd man out earlier in the campaign, but is now showing the form which persuaded Chelsea to sign him from Barcelona.
“I think all of us can see his performance,” Conte added.
“We are seeing the best moment of Pedro. I think that this Pedro played this type of football when he was at Barcelona. Pedro, for sure now is a really important player for us. In the same way Willy has recovered good form, Eden and also Diego. I think that now we have four players that are playing very, very well, in a fantastic way.
“I’m pleased for this, because this allows me also to make different choices game by game. Honestly this situation is not simple for me to make this decision.”