LEICESTER — Chelsea showed that they have the quality to win without Diego Costa against Leicester City, according to Thibaut Courtois.
A double from Marcos Alonso and a Pedro Rodriguez goal secured a 3-0 win for Chelsea at the King Power Stadium despite being without Costa, who did not travel with the squad.
After the match Antonio Conte insisted that Costa’s absence was due to a back injury, but sources told ESPN FC on Friday that the 28-year-old trained alone at Cobham for three days last week after a heated argument with a Chelsea fitness coach and Conte. There was also speculation that a lucrative offer from a Chinese Super League club had turned the Spain international’s head.
Just like Chelsea’s 3-0 win over Bournemouth on Boxing Day, Conte deployed Eden Hazard as a false nine to fill the void left by Costa and Courtois believes the Blues have proved there is more to their title challenge than having the Premier League’s top scorer in their team.
“We have the quality to replace Diego,” Courtois insisted. “He is important for us, but if he is not there for one game, we can call on another one.
“There is obviously a different way of playing because against [Robert] Huth and [Wes] Morgan there is no point in giving long balls to Eden, Willian and Pedro. But I think we did well and we were able to control the game and early moments.”
The speculation surrounding Costa’s future at Stamford Bridge overshadowed another positive weekend for Chelsea, who stretched their lead at the top of the Premier League to seven points after rivals Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United all failed to win.
Conte’s men also got back to winning ways in the Premier League at the first attempt following a 2-0 defeat to Tottenham at White Hart Lane earlier this month, and Courtois was pleased with the assured reaction of his teammates.
“We had an amazing run of winning 13 straight and I think that’s very good,” he added. “I don’t think we played a bad game at Tottenham, they scored in two key moments. I think if we had scored the equaliser just after half-time, we would have gone on to win like we did at Manchester City.
“But they scored to make it 2-0 and it was difficult. Tottenham are a good team and they were able to control the game — but I don’t think they were better than us. We know we have been doing well, we have been training well. But we had to react in the right way and we did.
“Obviously if you’re leading, you have the pressure of wanting to keep that gap. Thankfully for us we are there, we have a seven-point gap. The pressure is more on the other teams than us, but we have to keep winning our games.
“We are in a good moment, things are going well. Last year we were having a rough time and it was harder to get things in our favour. So we will try to keep the momentum and win our games.”
Liam is ESPN FC’s Chelsea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Liam_Twomey.