Chelsea manager Antonio Conte. Photo: Reuters / Dylan Martinez

LONDON - Chelsea cling to the hope Romelu Lukaku’s heart longs for an emotional return but shockwaves will rock Stamford Bridge if such a major transfer target slips away.

Were they caught napping? Did complacency creep in? Have they been outfoxed by Jose Mourinho and Lukaku’s agent Mino Raiola?

They refuse to accept the race is over and believe they can still sign the Belgian but if not tension is sure to increase between Antonio Conte and Roman Abramovich’s chief negotiators Marina Granovskaia and Michael Emenalo.

According to reports from his native Italy, Conte has not been satisfied with Chelsea’s transfer activity since last season.

In return, influential figures at the Bridge point to Conte taking it into his own hands to text Diego Costa and inform him he was not part of his plans.

Costa has been saying his goodbyes and hopes an offer from Atletico Madrid will excuse him from a return to training on Monday.

To lose the top scorer without a replacement ready would be unfathomable. Chelsea thought Lukaku was in the bag. They knew the asking price and were prepared to meet it. They were told he was excited by the prospect of returning to the club and he had been in contact with Conte. But by failing to close the deal they have allowed United to seize the initiative.

Monaco, too, are losing patience over Chelsea’s stalled £35million move for midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko.

Conte anticipated a major summer recruitment drive but the only signing to date is Willy Caballero on a free from Manchester City.

They could turn to Real Madrid striker Alvaro Morata, who Conte tried for last year. Andrea Belotti, who scored 28 goals for Torino last season, is another he likes.

Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez and Robert Lewandowski of Bayern Munich seem unrealistic targets.

The simplest solution would be to make up with Costa, were it not for a relationship broken by Conte’s text message.

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