Chelsea’s Italian head coach Antonio Conte / AFP PHOTO / Adrian DENNIS /
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte said his side had put on a united front after Diego Costa marked his return with a goal in a 2-0 victory over Hull City.
Absent from Chelsea’s 3-0 win at Leicester City amid reports he had been unsettled by an offer from China, Costa celebrated his opener on Sunday with a hand gesture suggestive of media chatter.
Conte claimed not to have seen the gesture, but with Chelsea having opened up an eight-point advantage at the top of the Premier League, he expressed confidence the matter had been put to bed.
“Honestly, I didn’t see because I was celebrating on the bench,” Conte told reporters at Stamford Bridge.
“When we score goals, sometimes my celebrations are very dangerous for my staff! It’s important to score the goal and to celebrate in any way.
“It’s important Diego played a good game and I hope with this game to finish the speculation about him, about Chelsea, about me and him.
“Because I think we showed that we are a team with a great unity and I think this is the real value, because we stay top of the table.”
Costa struck seven minutes into nine minutes of first-half stoppage time added on after a head injury sustained by Hull’s Ryan Mason, sweeping in his 15th goal of the season from Victor Moses’s cross.
It was later revealed that Mason had undergone surgery on a fractured skull.
The speculation about Costa is unlikely to vanish overnight, but Conte said he was more worried about preserving Chelsea’s position in the table than worrying about his striker’s long-term future.
Asked if Costa signing a new contract would help to douse the rumours, Conte replied: “I don’t know. This decision is something you have to take together with the club.
“But, I repeat: he’s very happy to stay with us and to play with Chelsea. For us, now, it’s very important to concentrate on the present and don’t see too far.
“If we start to see too far, we risk losing the present. The present is more important than the future.”
– Mason hospitalised –
Hull’s disappointment was compounded by the serious injury to Mason, the former Tottenham Hotspur midfielder requiring oxygen on the pitch and then being taken to hospital after a shuddering clash of heads with Gary Cahill.
“Ryan is in a stable condition and is expected to remain in hospital for the next few days,” said a Hull statement released after the player had undergone surgery. “A further update will be issued Monday.”
Hull, who remain in the relegation zone, were missing Robert Snodgrass due to what coach Marco Silva said was a “small” knee injury.
The Scotland international, Hull’s outstanding performer this season, has been strongly linked with a move to West Ham United.
Asked if he would leave the club this month, Silva replied: “I hope not because he’s a good player, an important player for us, and I don’t want important players to leave the club.”
Chelsea host second-tier Brentford in the FA Cup this weekend before returning to league action with a double header against Liverpool and Arsenal.
With Tottenham, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United all dropping points, Chelsea’s grip on first place has tightened yet further, but Conte aired a warning.
“Me and my players, we have a good experience to understand that this league will be very tough until the end,” said the Italian, who saw Cahill head in Chelsea’s second goal in the 81st minute.
“To win this type of game and exploit the situation that the other teams dropped points is very important.
“But this league will be very tough until the end. To stay now in that position is fantastic for us because at the start of the season, not one person thought this (was possible).”