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If Costa leaves, will Chelsea remain PL title contenders?

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Rumors have begun to swirl while the manager continues to deny any controversy, so what exactly is going on at Chelsea?

[ MORE: Spurs, Arsenal, Chelsea all win big in Saturday’s PL action ]

The Blues handled their business on Saturday with a comfortable 3-0 victory over Leicester City, however, Antonio Conte‘s side was forced to do so without the services of leading striker Diego Costa.

[ MORE: Conte says back injury left Costa out of Chelsea squad vs. Leicester ]

While Conte cited the Spaniard having suffered a back injury during training, several outlets have reported various reasons as to why Costa was left out of the squad that traveled to take on the Foxes. The Telegraph stated that a spat between Costa and the manager has left the striker on the outs and that the Blues are demanding an apology from the 28-year-old if he is to continue with the team moving forward.

Meanwhile, Costa has also been the subject of rampant transfer rumors linking him to China as the next major star to complete a big-money move.

Other than the Spaniard being left out of the Chelsea squad on Saturday there’s been little evidence suggesting that Costa will in fact leave the London club, but if any of the rumors are true it could present a dilemma for the league leaders.

[ LISTEN: 2 Robbies on Costa’s uncertain future ]

So, what would happen if Costa is actually sold or forced out of the club in January?

The 3-0 scoreline at the King Power Stadium was certainly impressive against Leicester, but Chelsea will be facing much stronger competition the rest of the way if they are to regain their status as Premier League champions. The Blues currently have the luxury of holding a seven-point advantage over second-place Tottenham but with Liverpool and Arsenal looming over the coming weeks the table could look drastically different.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 04: Pedro of Chelsea (L) and Diego Costa of Chelsea (R) argue during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea at White Hart Lane on January 4, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

Costa is undoubtedly a force to be reckoned with as the PL’s top goalscorer, so it would certainly present a challenge if he wasn’t in the fold for the Blues over the second half of the season. His 14 goals and five assists have created a nightmare of a matchup for opposition, and that sort of production likely can’t be duplicated by anyone in the Chelsea squad. At least not at the striker position.

Outside of Costa, Michy Batshuayi and Pedro are the only two strikers that have seen minutes this season for Chelsea. Pedro has lifted his PL stock in his second season with the Blues, scoring on four occasions and adding five assists, but Batshuayi has really struggled to find his footing at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea would likely be able to get away with playing Pedro as the team’s no. 9 against the PL’s lesser sides, but between Costa’s mix of physicality, finishing ability and speed, the difference in the two player’s abilities is great.

Each of the PL’s top six sides are currently separated by 10 points or less — with no team having lost more than one game in their last five — so even with Chelsea’s comfortable gap at the moment the title race is nowhere near over and Costa will play a massive role one way or another in the club’s fate.

Former Czech Republic defender Rajtoral kills himself

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PRAGUE (AP) Former Czech Republic defender Frantisek Rajtoral, who won the domestic league title four times before joining Turkish club Gaziantepspor, died on Sunday. He was 31.

[ MORE: Bayern scouted Kyle Walker, Alex Sanchez this weekend ]

The Czech football federation said in a statement that Rajtoral had “committed suicide in Turkey.”

His agent Pavel Zika confirmed the player’s death, describing it as a “huge tragedy.”

Gaziantepspor announced Rajtoral’s death in a brief statement on its website.

Rajtoral played 14 international matches for the Czech Republic.

In the top Czech league, he won four titles with Viktoria Plzen and played in the group stage of the Champions League twice for the club. He moved to Hannover in the Bundesliga in 2014 for half of the season, on loan.

He left Viktoria Plzen last year to move to Turkey.

Bellerin wants to represent Spain U21s despite Wenger’s wishes

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Arsene Wenger has made it clear about Hector Bellerin representing Spain this summer but the Arsenal defender is prepared to go against his manager’s wishes if he is selected.

[ MORE: Bayern scouted Kyle Walker, Alexis Sanchez over the weekend ]

The 22-year-old has said he hopes to play for Spain’s Under-21 side this summer during the 2017 European U-21 Championship but Wenger has been weary of Bellerin’s injury status and wants his fullback to maintain a clean bill of health throughout the offseason.

“I really want to play,” Bellerin told IBTimes. “Representing Spain is very important. If [Albert] Celades gives me the chance I’ll be there.

“Those are opinions of the managers. I have to keep working. The truth is that I had a difficult injury but I think that I am at 100% now and I’ll try to prove it when I get the chance.”

Bellerin signed a six-and-a-half year deal with the Gunners in November, where he has resided since coming up in the club’s academy. He has made 102 appearances for Wenger’s team in that span over all competitions.

Roma boosts bid for 2nd in Serie A by beating Pescara 4-1

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PESCARA, Italy (AP) Roma boosted its bid for second place in Serie A and automatic entry into the Champions League with a 4-1 win at Pescara, which was mathematically relegated on Monday.

[ MORE: Newcastle joins Brighton in promotion to Premier League ]

Roma moved four points clear of third-placed Napoli, which drew against Sassuolo 2-2 on Sunday. Third place in Serie A receives a Champions League playoff.

Pescara remained 15 points behind Empoli. There are only five matches left and Empoli has the better head-to-head record, which is the deciding factor if two teams finish level on points.

There were 48 goals in total in the 33rd round, matching the record set in October 1992.

Roma took control shortly before halftime, with Kevin Strootman breaking the deadlock after Stephan El Shaarawy unselfishly rolled the ball across the area.

Radja Nainggolan, who earlier hit the bar, doubled Roma’s lead two minutes later.

Mohamed Salah extended Roma’s advantage three minutes after the break and the winger doubled his tally on the hour following a swift counterattack.

Ahmad Benali got a consolation for Pescara and a Cristiano Biraghi free kick also hit the post for the home side.

Frank Yallop resigns as Phoenix Rising coach shortly after Drogba arrival

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The timing is a bit sudden and certainly leaves many questions up in the air, but Phoenix Rising will have to look for a new manager.

[ MORE: Chicharito talks heating up with LA FC ]

On Monday, head coach Frank Yallop resigned from his position with the United Soccer League (USL) club less than one day after former Chelsea legend Didier Drogba joined the organization as a player-owner.

With Phoenix seen as one of several lower-level clubs with ambitions of making the leap to MLS over the coming seasons, Yallop’s departure is surely a shock to many.

According to ESPN FC, Rising lead owner Berke Bakay was quite surprised by Yallop’s decision to step down, as was Drogba.

“Didier was as surprised and disappointed as we were that Frank is unable to continue coaching our Club,” Bakay told ESPN FC. “But, we all respect his decision to put his family first.

“Didier’s focus will remain on improving our team as a player and assisting our MLS expansion team ownership group as a co-owner. Frank will be helping with our international search for a new head coach.”

Rick Schantz, the current Rising assistant coach, will head the team’s managerial duties for the interim while the club completes a full search for a new manager.