Chelsea boss Antonio Conte: Mohamed Salah is a different player now
LONDON -- Antonio Conte insisted it would be unfair to criticise Chelsea's decision to sell Mohamed Salah to Roma because the Egyptian has transformed himself into a different player since leaving Stamford Bridge.
Salah has scored 43 goals in 47 appearances for Liverpool this season, leading the club to the brink of a Champions League final and third in the Premier League, and was recognised for his astonishing scoring form by being named PFA Player of the Year on Sunday.
His emergence as one of the world's best players at Anfield has raised questions for Chelsea, who sold the Egyptian for £12 million in the summer of 2016 after a lack of opportunities under Jose Mourinho resulted in him joining Fiorentina and then Roma on loan, with the latter move being made permanent.
Mourinho has defended his role in Salah's departure to ESPN Brasil by insisting that it was Chelsea who ultimately decided to sell the player, but Conte does not believe it was realistic to predict the forward's explosive development during his unremarkable spell in west London.
"It's not so simple," he insisted. "We have to compare Salah of four or five years ago, and not this Salah now. Salah in the present has improved a lot, developed a lot his football. The experience in Italy was very important for him.
"Now I'm sure that he's a different player compared to in the past. For this reason, this comparison is very difficult."
Conte's immediate focus is on preserving Chelsea's slim hopes of a top-four finish in the Premier League. They face Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday, two days before rivals Tottenham host Watford, but the Italian dismissed the suggestion that playing first is an advantage for his side.
"The reality is that Tottenham have a big advantage -- they have five points more than us," he added. "The only way to try and put a bit of pressure on Tottenham is to get three points tomorrow. Otherwise it will be very difficult to put pressure on them."
Chelsea have no new injury concerns ahead of the trip to Wales. David Luiz remains sidelined with a knee problem, but Conte revealed that the Brazilian may yet feature again this season.
"We'll see [if he can return]," Conte said of Luiz. "For sure, now, he's having training sessions and is improving a lot. He had this problem in his knee. He's working very hard. He's aiming to come back before the [end] of the season."
Liam is ESPN FC's Chelsea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Liam_Twomey.