More de­fen­sive tar­gets fall as ri­vals play fi­nan­cial hard ball

Daily Mirror - - FOOTBALL SPY -

AN­TO­NIO CONTE is fac­ing fresh frus­tra­tion in his bat­tle to solve Chelsea’s de­fen­sive cri­sis.

AC Mi­lan’s in­com­ing new Chi­nese own­ers have taken on Blues owner Ro­man Abramovich (above) in a bid to pre­vent the Rus­sian pris­ing highly-rated Alessio Ro­mag­noli away from Serie A.

It comes with Napoli de­mand­ing £60mil­lion for their Sene­gal cen­tre-back Kali­dou Koulibaly and the same club in pole po­si­tion to take an­other of Chelsea’s de­fen­sive tar­gets, Torino’s Nikola Mak­si­movic.

Conte’s side have al­ready had a bid of £30m for 21-year-old Ro­mag­noli re­jected and are ready to make an im­proved of­fer of £35m.

But Mi­lan’s prospec­tive new own­ers are keen to demon­strate their am­bi­tion to the club’s fans and believe the best way of do­ing so is by fend­ing off un­wanted ap­proaches for their young ris­ing star.

Although the Ital­ian gi­ants’ takeover will not be com­plete for some time, all de­ci­sions re­gard­ing trans­fers have to be agreed by both the cur­rent cus­to­di­ans – Sil­vio Ber­lus­coni’s com­pany Fin­in­vest – and the in­com­ing own­ers.

Conte has held talks with Stam­ford Bridge chiefs over their next move in the trans­fer mar­ket with just a week to go be­fore the win­dow closes. It is un­der­stood the for­mer Italy and Ju­ven­tus boss is af­ter an­other three play­ers be­fore it slams shut.

The west Lon­don club have won their first two games in the Premier League, hav­ing signed mid­fielder N’Golo Kante from Le­ices­ter for £32m and striker Michy Batshuayi from Mar­seille for £33m.

But they have backed away from a move to re-sign striker Romelu Lukaku from Ever­ton af­ter be­ing quoted a mas­sive £75m by the Merseysiders.

Chelsea are adamant they will not be held to ran­som by Ever­ton, Napoli or any other club over play­ers de­spite their lack of time to do deals be­fore the win­dow closes.

The Blues are stretched in de­fence, how­ever, with academy star Ola Aina in­jured in Tues­day night’s 3-2 win over Bristol Rovers that put them into the EFL Cup’s third round. Papy Djilo­bodji was sold to Sun­der­land ear­lier this month, Kurt Zouma re­mains in­jured, Nathan Ake has gone back out on loan to Bournemouth and £21m full-back Baba Rah­man has joined Schalke on a sea­son-long loan.

Mid­fielder Ruben Lof­tus-Cheek is tar­get­ing a clean sweep for Chelsea in the league and the cup com­pe­ti­tions.

Conte has con­firmed the ris­ing star will stay and fight for his place this sea­son rather than go­ing out on loan.

Lof­tus-Cheek, 20, im­pressed play­ing just off two-goal Batshuayi in the EFL Cup vic­tory and he said: “There is no Cham­pi­ons League this sea­son but we want to win tro­phies.

“We can con­cen­trate on the Premier League and the cups as well.

“It is a mi­nus not be­ing in the Cham­pi­ons League but it is a plus in a way that we can fo­cus on the two cups.”

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