Chelsea boss Antonio Conte laughs off Diego Costa's claims of mistreatment
LONDON -- Antonio Conte laughed off suggestions that Diego Costa is being harshly treated by Chelsea and reiterated that for him, the striker's situation is "in the past".
Earlier this month Costa, who remains in exile in his hometown of Lagarto in Brazil, told the Daily Mail that he felt Chelsea were dealing with him "like a criminal," and in an interview with ESPN Brasil on Friday the 28-year-old accused the Premier League champions of pricing him out of his desired move back to Atletico Madrid.
But when Costa's comments were put to Conte in a news conference at Cobham on Friday, the coach burst into laughter before replying: "It's great, it's great. I prefer to laugh.
"I can tell you that everyone who was in Chelsea knows very well what happened last season with Diego. It's funny, this interview."
The Times reported this week that Costa asked Chelsea to sell him during last summer's preseason tour, and he therefore surprised the club by acting upset when Conte told him this past June that the striker wasn't in his plans.
Chelsea have made it clear that they expect Costa to fulfil the terms of his contract by returning to England, coming back to training, working his way back to full fitness and putting himself in the frame for first-team selection.
Asked if Costa could still play for him again, Conte added: "I'm not interested to continue this issue. I repeat: for me, it is in the past."
Conte's immediate focus is on kick-starting Chelsea's Premier League title defence against bitter rivals Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley on Sunday -- a game the Blues must face without several of their key starters.
Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas are both suspended, while Eden Hazard is still some way from full fitness as he recovers from a broken ankle.
Pedro Rodriguez is also doubtful after feeling pain in his ankle during Friday's training session, but Conte revealed that summer signing Tiemoue Bakayoko is in contention to make his Chelsea debut despite being in less than peak condition after arriving from Monaco with a lingering knee injury.
"Hazard is improving, but to be fully fit, I think he needs time," Conte said. "We must have patience with him and try to do the best for him.
"Bakayoko is improving very well. He's not at the top of physical condition, but he could be in contention for the game because at this moment I don't have other midfielders available.
"I don't know about Pedro. His situation is very difficult. I don't know if he's available for the bench or not."
Asked if he was concerned about the prospect of bringing Bakayoko back too soon, Conte added: "I'm only worried that when you try to put the players very soon [back into the team], the risk to have an injury is very high. The physical condition might not be 100 percent and we have to take some risks."
Chelsea's lack of central midfield options for the trip to Wembley led to suggestions that David Luiz could start alongside N'Golo Kante in the middle of the pitch, but Conte reiterated that he sees the Brazilian's position as in the middle of the back three.
"I can put also a goalkeeper in midfield and this is a solution," he joked. "I have to study the best option, to find the right player, to find the right characteristics to play in this role.
"I am not worried about this, I tried to transfer this concept also to my players. I am sure we are ready to have a good game against Tottenham.
"In the past [Luiz] played in the midfield, in the past honestly I prefer him to play central defence. We are trying to find a different solution that will work. David is a player available to play in different positions, it is a pleasure to have this sort of player. Imagine if you had a player who told you 'No, I only want to play in this role.'"
Liam is ESPN FC's Chelsea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Liam_Twomey.