ANTONIO CONTE has reportedly gone from wanting to replace Diego Costa in the summer to considering the striker essential to his plans.
Chelsea’s manager arrived after Euro 2016 with an intention to sign a world-class frontman who was more technically sound than Costa.
According to the Daily Mail, Gonzalo Higuain and Edinson Cavani were on his wishlist for Roman Abramovich, with Conte unconvinced by his Spain international.
However, the boss’ view has been totally changed following Costa’s turnaround in attitude and impact on the team.
The 28-year-old has 12 Premier League goals already this season, having fired Chelsea to the top of the table.
Back in the summer though, even once Conte’s transfer targets became unachievable, Diego Costa’s future at Stamford Bridge came under scrutiny.
On the Blues’ pre-season tour, the Brazilian-born man was left out of big friendlies by the boss due to back complaints and training commitment.
It apparently led to a private conversation between the pair, in which Conte was reassured by Costa’s focus, and Chelsea are now reaping the rewards with Conte enjoying the forward’s passion.
Reports have now suggested a new contract is closer than any potential exit, with a return to Atletico Madrid often mooted.
And talks of a new deal have come even since Conte and Costa’s very public clash in the game against Leicester in October.
Costa reacted aggressively, demanding to be subbed when Conte blasted instructions at him, and the Daily Mail add that the pair clashed in the dressing room afterwards.
But fans have seen a calmer and more controlled striker of late, who has remained on four yellow cards for some time.
A stunning goal against West Brom on Sunday highlighted Costa’s importance to Conte and Chelsea, and another chance to add to his goal tally will come at struggling Sunderland.