Antonio Conte plays down Chelsea interest in Alexis Sanchez
LONDON -- Antonio Conte played down reports that Chelsea are in the race to sign Arsenal star Alexis Sanchez, but reiterated that the club's transfer policy is out of his hands.
Reports on Monday claimed Manchester City, who have ended their interest in Sanchez, believed that Chelsea had made contact with the player's agent, Fernando Felicevich, with a view to hijacking Manchester United's proposed bid to sign him in January.
But when asked if Chelsea are making a play to sign Sanchez in a press conference on Tuesday, Conte said: "I don't know, but I don't think so."
Conte has said that he will not be the one who decides which players Chelsea sign in the January transfer window and beyond.
One player the Premier League champions have signed is Ross Barkley, acquired in a £15 million deal from Everton earlier this month.
Conte on Friday suggested that Barkley would feature from the substitutes' bench in Wednesday's FA Cup third round replay against Norwich City at Stamford Bridge, but Chelsea were unable to register the 24-year-old far enough ahead of the first game in the tie to be eligible.
"We are preparing a friendly game for him [behind closed doors] during this week, and then we will see his physical condition," Conte said of Barkley. "But I'm very happy for his commitment and physical condition. He could be ready for the next game [against Brighton]."
Club captain Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas are both out of the Norwich game with minor hamstring complaints, while Eden Hazard is likely to be one of the big names rested as Conte rotates his team.
Hazard has been substituted in seven of his last eight Chelsea appearances, and was brought off after just 58 minutes against Leicester City on Saturday. Conte explained he is trying to protect the player, but bristled when it was suggested that his star man might not be satisfied with his number of minutes.
"We are talking about a player who, recently, had a bad injury in his ankle and surgery," Conte added. "Usually, when you have this type of situation, you must pay great attention. During the season you can have ups and downs. He missed the preseason with us, too.
"I think that, with him, we are trying to find the best way. It's normal that one player can't keep always top of the form. But, like the others, my task is to try and improve him and try and put him in the best physical condition to take the best decision for the team during games.
"I'm the coach, I decide. It's not important if one player is happy or not. Only here [in England] is there this situation. You are very worried about whether a player is happy or not. This is not important.
"My first task is to do the best for the team and the club, not to make every player happy otherwise we'd risk finishing 20th in the table. Every press conference there is always this question about whether I'm worried about making my players happy. No. I'm worried to win."
Conte also confirmed that Michy Batshuayi will be handed a rare start up front in place of Alvaro Morata against Norwich, though he declined to dismiss reports linking the unsettled striker with a loan move to Sevilla in January.
"Batshuayi is Chelsea's player and he's in our squad," he said. "Tomorrow he has to play. This is the truth until now.
"He's Chelsea's player and he's having this possibility to show he deserves to play for Chelsea. This is the reality. This is the truth. Then, in the future, I don't know what will happen. The final decision is for the club, not for me."
Liam is ESPN FC's Chelsea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Liam_Twomey.