Chelsea head coach Antonio Conte conceded his richly successful switch to three at the back has left Branislav Ivanovic as the odd man out, with speculation swirling over the Serbia captain’s future at Stamford Bridge.
Ivanovic has been linked with a move to Russian Premier League club Zenit, while a clutch of English top-flight clubs are also reportedly interested in the 32-year-old’s signature.
Conte’s rejig to a 3-4-2-1 following September’s 3-0 defeat at Arsenal inspired Chelsea’s on-going and relentless march towards the Premier League title.
Ivanovic wore the captain’s armband at Emirates Stadium and continued what was, at that stage, an ever-present record in the league.
He has not made Conte’s Premier League starting XI since, though, and the former Juventus boss accepted a move could be on the cards before the window shuts on Tuesday.
“I don’t know because there are four days [before the deadline] and, in this month, there are a lot of speculations,” he told a news conference when asked about the future of a player who joined Chelsea from Lokomotiv Moscow in 2008.
“I don’t know if anything happens about him. Sometimes I think that you [the media] know more than me.
“I think in this season Ivanovic has played with me. He had different games in the starting XI.
“When I switched to three at the back, something changed and, for sure, I have to make decisions – to pick only 11 players.
“I think that, until now, he’s always involved in our squad.”
A settled and dominant starting XI has also restricted opportunities for the likes of club captain John Terry and Cesc Fabregas, while Oscar made a lucrative move to Shanghai SIPG and Conte felt it would be unwise to make assumptions over Ivanovic’s desires under the circumstances.
“For sure, about this situation it’s better to talk with the player, no?” he said.
“To know if there are different ideas, different visions for the future to the present.
“To reply for another person is not the right thing to do.”
Conte was emphatic by contrast in stating midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek would not be permitted to leave Stamford Bridge on loan next week.
Alongside Ivanovic and Bournemouth target Asmir Begovic, the England Under-21 international is set to feature in Saturday’s FA Cup fourth-round tie against Brentford and Conte believes his development will be best continued at Chelsea, despite playing only 15 minutes in the Premier League this season.
“Ruben stays here. He’s a young player with great potential, and he has another great chance to play from the start and to show what I’m seeing very well [in training],” Conte said, before urging patience from the youngsters on the fringes of his squad.
“I think when there are young players you must understand why the team is where they are,” Conte added.
“Chelsea are a top team and to play in Chelsea is not easy. It’s not easy.
“I remember, also, when I was manager of Juventus it was the same. We had young players, very good players, but to get into the first-team often you need to have a step and then to come back.
“It’s very difficult to go from the academy and then play in the first-team. We are talking about a top team at the top level. It’s not easy.”
Following a 4-1 win over League One Peterborough United in round three, Conte is relishing another memorable atmosphere against near-neighbours Brentford – something he feels is particular to English cup competitions.
“If you remember in the last game, we played with a great atmosphere,” he added. “It’s fantastic because this type of situation only happens here in England.
“When two teams play from different leaguers in other countries… like Serie A and Serie B teams, you’d find 1,000 people in the stadium and think that you are lucky.”
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