Antonio Conte has backed Álvaro Morata to fill the void left by Diego Costa at Chelsea, describing the striker, who joined the champions for a club record fee in July, as a “complete player” and, somewhat bizarrely, the type of person a father would be happy for his daughter to marry.
Chelsea announced on Thursday they had reached an agreement with Atlético Madrid over the sale of Costa, with the 28-year-old set to complete a return to the Spanish club, subject to the agreement of personal terms and a medical, for a fee in the region of £57m. The transfer will bring an end to a turbulent three-year stay in London for Costa, ranging from the highs of scoring 52 goals in 89 top-flight appearances and winning two Premier League titles to the low of going into exile in his native Brazil this summer in order to force a move away.
Costa insisted he has “no bitterness towards anyone” at Chelsea when interviewed in São Paulo on Friday, with Conte also keen to move on from a relationship that started to deteriorate at the turn of the year. “We want to thank him for what he did with this club. We wish him all the best for the future,” said the manager when asked about the player before Chelsea’s visit to Stoke City on Saturday.
Conte was far happier extolling Morata’s suitability to be the club’s principal long-term striker. The 24-year-old has impressed since arriving from Real Madrid for £58m, scoring four times in six appearances while Costa has been absent without leave.
However, he struggled to impose himself during the goalless draw with Arsenal at Stamford Bridge last week, leading to observers questioning whether Morata has the attributes to succeed at a club of Chelsea’s size. He certainly lacks the aggression and ruthless desire to win of his predecessor in that role.
“For Álvaro it’s the right moment to be the striker in a great team and don’t forget with Juventus and Real Madrid, he played but not every game, not regularly. For this reason he is at the right age to have this responsibilty,” Conte said. “I like him because he’s a complete player and also he has a lot of room to improve in every situation – tactical, physical, technical aspect.
“He’s also very committed and his behaviour is always fantastic. He is a very polite player, I like this, also I like he’s a good finisher, he feels the goal in every moment, he’s very good at understanding which is the best position in the box to receive the ball and where the ball is going.”
Asked to expand on his description of Morata as a “polite player”, Conte, who also signed the striker when manager of Juventus, said: “It means if you have a daughter you’d be open to have this type of person with your daughter, to marry your daughter. A really good guy, a polite person. But my daughter is young, don’t touch my daughter!” Vittoria Conte is nine years old.
Morata is likely to be in Chelsea’s XI at the Bet365 Stadium as they look to build on Wednesday’s 5-1 hammering of Nottingham Forest in the Carabao Cup. Eden Hazard could start for the first time in the Premier League this season having come through the Forest game unscathed following his recovery from an ankle injury.
The Belgian’s return is a major boost for the champions, with Conte suggesting on Friday he could also start in Wednesday’s Champions League match at Atlético Madrid and next week’s league visit of Manchester City. “There is the possibility now to try to pick him for these games,” Conte said.
David Luiz is suspended for the trip to Stoke following his red card against Arsenal but Tiémoué Bakayoko is available despite being involved in a car accident as he left Chelsea’s Cobham training base on Thursday. “It was a minor accident – he’s fit,” said Conte.
With regards to Costa, Chelsea came under criticism for posting only a 30-word statement on their website announcing his transfer to Atlético. The club have, however, formulated a longer tribute to the player and will post it online as soon as the deal has been confirmed.
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