What had threatened to become a short, sharp shock for Chelsea will instead become the long goodbye as Diego Costa looks to be on the way out of Stamford Bridge in the summer.
A massive falling-out with manager Antonio Conte and members of his coaching staff led to the Spanish international striker training on his own and subsequently missing Chelsea’s 3-0 win at Leicester last Saturday.
Chinese Super League side Tianjin Quanjian were strongly linked with an £80m move for Costa, as well as a £30m per year salary on offer to the player himself. However, stricter rules surrounding the number of foreign players CSL teams can field have put the brakes on the deal.
All parties are said to have held productive talks since, and Costa is likely to start Chelsea’s match against Hull this weekend. Still, the 28-year-old’s outburst, combined with his dislike of living in England, has meant that there seems to be only way that this is heading.
With that in mind, Conte will soon be on the lookout for replacements for his temperamental forward.
Romelu Lukaku (Everton)
The Everton striker was high on Conte’s list of targets last summer amid reports of two failed transfer bids for the Belgian striker. However, with the Toffees looking like they are going to fall short of a top six finish and with Mino Raiola desperate to get his client to a Champions League club, a parting of the ways could be in the pipeline.
Álvaro Morata (Real Madrid)
Another prime Conte target from last summer, Real Madrid ended the possibility of a deal when they decided to keep Morata rather than sell him on once they had bought him back from Juventus for €30m.
However, Real are apparently more minded to sell next summer than they were in 2016, in part to fund a move for another Juve striker in the form of Paulo Dybala. The Spanish international has started just six matches in La Liga all season and the right offer could tempt Florentino Perez and Zinedine Zidane to let him leave the Bernabéu.
Paulo Dybala (Juventus)
Of course, Conte could just cut out the middle-man and go straight for Dybala himself. The 23-year-old Argentine striker is seen as one of the most promising young forwards of his generation, and after a Scudetto-winning season last year in which he scored 19 goals in 34 games at the J Stadium, Dybala is a man in demand.
His dribbling ability and ball retention mean that he would fit seamlessly into Conte’s 3-4-3 and while he wouldn’t come cheap, Dybala would be an ideal replacement for Costa.
Alexis Sánchez (Arsenal)
Arsene Wenger’s assertion that Arsenal don’t sell their best players to their rivals was hammered by Manchester City raiding half of their starting eleven at the end of the last decade, and then beaten to a fine paste by Manchester United poaching Robin van Persie in 2012.
Wenger might be loath to sell Alexis Sánchez in the summer, especially to a title rival, but the forward’s refusal thus far to sign a new contract could mean that they have little option. Alexis’ current deal runs out in 2018 so if Chelsea were to come calling in July, the Gunners could be faced with the option of either selling him to the Blues or risk losing him for nothing twelve months later.
Antoine Griezmann (Atlético Madrid)
The Independent are nailing their colours to the mast regarding Griezmann’s chances of ending up at Manchester United next season, but if Chelsea were to become involved that would make things interesting.
Money would be no object to either side, and a reported €100m release clause would be met with little fuss, but while Chelsea are virtually guaranteed a Champions League place even at this early stage, Man United’s return to Europe’s premier club competition is far less certain.
Griezmann’s friend and international colleague Paul Pogba could be key in swinging his decision in the Red Devils’ favour, but a deal is by no means secured if Jose Mourinho’s side finish fifth or sixth.
Andrea Belotti (Torino)
The 23-year-old is having a storming season for Torino in Serie A, with a record of 13 goals in 17 games that has started to turn heads across Europe. Chairman Urbano Cairo has claimed to have rejected a €65m bid for Arsenal for the Italian international this month, and while that claim has yet to be verified by the English side, Belotti is almost certain to attract interest in the summer.
Energetic, potent, works well in a front three – Conte will surely be well aware of Belotti’s potential from watching the player in his role as Italy manager, and a bid would not be a major surprise.
Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
In the two Premier League matches Costa has missed so far this season, Eden Hazard has played up front in both – and both have ended 3-0 to Chelsea. While it would be simplistic to suggest that this was primarily down to utilising Hazard as a centre-forward (especially as the only goal he scored in either game was a penalty), it’s worth noting that he turned in very promising performances in both.
Conte has led the way with a 3-4-3 formation this season, but if he decides not to buy a ready-made first-team striker this season, taking a leaf from Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool playbook and operating with a false nine-type system up front might be the answer.
The Wildcard: Michy Batshuayi (Chelsea)
The £33m signing of Batshuayi last June is on course to be one of the worst deals in Premier League history. It’s not that the 23-year-old is a bad player necessarily, it’s just that he’s not being given the time on the pitch to justify his massive fee.
At last count, he had played roughly 35 minutes of Premier League football spread across eight appearances, only once featuring for more than ten minutes in any one match. He was recently linked with loan moves to Swansea and West Ham, and for all the world it appears as though Conte has no use for him and he will be gone in the summer.
The Wilder Card: Mario Balotelli (Nice)
One more crack at the Premier League, Mario? As unlikely as it would be to happen, Balotelli’s record of eight goals in nine Ligue 1 appearances this season is at least raising one or two eyebrows.