London (AFP) – Chelsea will bid to put the Diego Costa crisis behind them when the Premier League leaders host Hull, while title chasing Tottenham aim to maintain their hot streak at troubled Manchester City on Saturday.
Blues striker Costa reportedly clashed with Chelsea boss Antonio Conte last week over the club’s treatment of his back injury.
Amid reports that Costa was also the subject of a lucrative offer from Chinese Super League club Tianjin Quanjian, Conte kept his players focused as they crushed Leicester 3-0 last weekend despite the absence of the Spain striker.
With Chelsea refusing to consider selling their leading scorer, Conte appears to have smoothed any troubled waters and Costa returned to full training this week.
Conte has refused to acknowledge there was even a dispute with Costa, but it will be instructive to see if he restores the notoriously volatile star to his starting line-up with so much at stake in the title race.
“Yes, I think the player wants to stay at Chelsea. This idea (to move) is far from his mind,” Conte said on Friday when asked if Costa was available to face Hull.
“Diego is a good player. He’s a good person. Now he’s only focused on Chelsea.
“I’m sure about his commitment, his will to fight with this team to try to win the title.”
In the unlikely event of a Chelsea slip, second-placed Tottenham could close the seven-point gap on their London rivals when they travel to Eastlands.
City’s 4-0 thrashing at Everton last Sunday was the heaviest league loss of Pep Guardiola’s glittering managerial career and left them languishing 10 points behind Chelsea after a second defeat in their last three league games.
That prompted Guardiola to write off City’s title hopes and led critics to question whether the former Bayern Munich and Barcelona chief can succeed in England.
Tottenham pose another threat to Guardiola’s equilibrium after reeling off a six-game winning run.
– ‘Intense’ –
But Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino, who handed Guardiola his first defeat as City boss in October, is certain his rival will eventually make his mark.
“Guardiola is one of the best managers. It is difficult to come to a new club and bring a new philosophy but he is doing very well. I am sure he will be a success,” Pochettino said.
With his squad short on energy and inspiration in recent weeks, Guardiola could freshen up his attack by giving a debut to teenage Brazil forward Gabriel Jesus, who officially completed his move from Palmeiras this week.