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.