Antonio Conte has refused to guarantee that Cesc Fabregas will remain a Chelsea player come the end of the January transfer window, dropping a major hint that the Spain midfielder is not part of his long-term plans at Stamford Bridge.
29-year-old Fabregas has made just two starts in the Premier League season and has been a victim of Conte’s formation switch to a 3-4-3 that reduces the Blues’s midfield by one man – which more often than not was Fabregas.
Italian sides AC Milan and Roma are both interested in Fabregas, and will be buoyed by Conte’s admission that he cannot confirm if Fabregas will still be playing for the club come the end of winter transfer window even though he wants to stay at the club and fight for his place.
“In football, in my experience, it's very difficult to guarantee always something, so this is difficult,” Conte said ahead of the Premier League trip to Sunderland.
“But Cesc is an important player for us. He played a key match against Manchester City, and played very well. In the last match (against West Brom) he came on very well during the game.
“Tomorrow I have still to decide the starting XI, but Cesc is always a good choice, for me. He is an important player and in the squad of Chelsea. Now this is the reality.”
While Fabregas may be left waiting for a recall, one player who looks certain to come back in is Brazil midfielder Willian. The 28-year-old has not started a Premier League match since 01 October after he was given compassionate leave by the club following the death of his mother.
As Willian remained in Brazil to be with his family after international duty, Spain international Pedro was selected in his place and has flourished since, leaving Willian to make do with a place on the substitutes’ bench.
But Chelsea will be without influential winger Eden Hazard for the trip to the Stadium of Light, with the current front-runner for the Premier League Player of the Year award left in London after suffering a minor knock, and Willian looks poised for a recall to Conte’s side in the Belgian’s place.
A victory for Chelsea will take them six points clear of the chasing pack after Arsenal slipped up in a 2-1 defeat at Everton, although Liverpool can pull level with the Gunners if they can beat Middlesbrough.
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