Is agent Jorge Mendes behind Diego Costa's row with Chelsea?
Spanish striker ready to reconcile with manager Antonio Conte, but is likely to leave Stamford Bridge this summer
Diego Costa's future at Chelsea remains unclear, with some reports claiming he has been summoned to clear-the-air talks with boss Antonio Conte and others saying no such meeting has been arranged.
The Spanish striker was exiled from the first team following a reported bust-up over a back injury last week, after it emerged that Chinese Super League club Tianjin Quanjian wanted to sign him this month on a £30m-a-year pay deal.
Chelsea have made it clear they will not allow Costa to leave in the middle of the season.
According to The Times, Conte now wants to hold a meeting with the player "to assess the state of his mind and body as he begins preparations for Sunday's Premier League match against Hull City at Stamford Bridge".
Costa, 28, who has scored 14 goals this season, "has been working on his own for the past week after a disagreement with Chelsea's fitness coaches last Tuesday over the state of his lower back, with Conte taking the side of his backroom staff", adds the paper.
There could be friendlier relations in the offing as Costa "has shown some willingness to heal the wounds caused by last week’s bust-up... [and] is believed to want to keep playing for Chelsea in the short term".
However, The Guardian says the onus is on him to instigate a reconciliation - and that there are no plans for talks between player and manager.
Even if Costa does make up with Chelsea, it is likely to be a short-term arrangement. "It appears increasingly likely he will depart Stamford Bridge in the summer," says The Guardian. "The events of the past week have ensured their original plan to secure Costa to new terms - his deal expires in 2019 - has effectively been abandoned."
The current impasse may be the result of a power play by Costa's agent, Jorge Mendes, says Jason Burt of the Daily Telegraph. China has emerged as a lucrative new market but so far, the biggest deals have been negotiated by Mendes's rival, Kia Joorabchian.
Is he can negotiate a deal that takes one of the Premier League's biggest stars to China, adds Burt, Mendes "will have reaffirmed his status as the world’s most influential super-agent".
However, Chelsea are determined not to become the pawns in a wider game.
"They are aware of the context of the deal and the volatility of the player and hope that it may blow over at least until the end of this campaign, when it will be less damaging to let Costa finally go. Until then they cannot be seen to be dictated to," says Burt.
Can Chelsea win Premier League without Diego Costa?
A tumultuous weekend for Chelsea ended with the Blues seven points clear of their nearest rivals in the title race but with a cloud hanging over their Premier League campaign.
Antonio Conte's team brushed champions Leicester City aside on Saturday, but did so without the help of top scorer Diego Costa who was banished from the first team squad following a bust-up with a fitness coach amid rumours that the combustible Spaniard wants to quit Stamford Bridge for China.
So while the Blues extended their lead, thanks to Liverpool's draw with Manchester United, they "must put out the astonishing fire set in their own home", says Riath al-Samarrai of the Daily Mail.
This season has been like a game of snakes and ladders for the big teams, he says, and "there is no denying the situation at Stamford Bridge could potentially open the door for the pack".
There are fears that Costa could become a "bad apple". BBC pundit Alan Shearer says if that happens Chelsea should let him go. He also warned that the Blues faced a "huge uphill struggle" to win the league without him.
Former Chelsea player Ray Wilkins echoed those sentiments on Sky Sports. "If they are going to win the Premier League they are going to need this guy," he said, while questioning Costa's motivation for moving to China.
Others are bemused by Costa's apparent desire to quit Stamford Bridge. "Can you really not want to be part of a team that could still – even with the rest of the big six in pleasing form – canter to the title?" asks Andy Dunn in the Daily Mirror.
But even if the Spaniard does leave, Chelsea are still in a strong position, as their performance against Leicester has proved. "This was not irrefutable proof of their capability to win the Premier League without Costa, but it was a luminous enough indicator," says Dunn.
The Costa row gave manager Antonio Conte "the opportunity to prove the versatility and flexibility of his squad", says Phil McNulty of the BBC, with Eden Hazard, Willian and Pedro providing plenty of attacking threat.
"The priority now is to get the combustible Spain striker back on side and ensure any unrest does not spread," he adds. "If that can be done, then Chelsea can look back at a weekend where their title position was strengthened as they now stand seven points clear."
Even if Costa does depart it might not be the end of the world, says Jacob Steinberg of The Guardian. "There will be tougher tests than Leicester for Chelsea, such as the trip to Liverpool on 31 January, and their best team still includes Costa," he says. "Even without him, however, they have the look of killers."