LONDON - Chelsea manager Antonio Conte promised a peaceful break from the past if he meets Diego Costa on Wednesday night — and then challenged Eden Hazard to raise his European performances.
Chelsea and Atletico Madrid on Tuesday completed Diego Costa’s transfer, which is initially a loan until the end of the season with the Spaniards then duty-bound to pay a £57million transfer fee. Costa is ineligible to play for Atletico until January, but Wednesday night is the first time since the FA Cup final that Costa and Conte will be in the same stadium as the two teams meet in the Champions League.
Costa will be free to mingle around the tunnel area as he pleases and will then be sat in the stands, although he is not expected to be paraded on the pitch as Atletico boss Diego Simeone wants to focus on the game. Costa and Conte were embroiled in a bitter feud during the summer after the striker alleged in an interview with Sportsmail that Conte had ended his Chelsea career by text message and then accused the club of treating him "like a criminal".
Asked if he would shake the hand of his old forward, Conte insisted he has no qualms. "Yes," Conte said. "I have no problem with Diego Costa. I said that we wish him the best for the future. We want to thank him for the last season. But, I repeat, I have no problem with him."
Conte’s side face an acid test of their progress against Simeone’s combative team, who have reached the Champions League final twice in the past four seasons. Spanish sides have won 11 of the last 18 Champions League and Europa titles, while English clubs have lifted just three.
Conte accepts Wednesday night offers a barometer of their progress. "Away from home against one of the best teams in the Champions League," Conte smiled. "It’s the right moment to understand where we are.
In particular, he presented a challenge to Hazard, who has scored only five goals in 31 Champions League appearances for Chelsea. "We have to try to change the history. In the last few years, the history has been this: that Spanish teams are dominating in Europe."
"Eden was very big for us to win the league last season. He showed in every game big talent to be a top player. This competition brings you to another level. He has every possibility to do this. It is the right moment."