Date published: Saturday 5th August 2017 11:46

Antonio Conte expects this season to be his most difficult in management.

The Chelsea boss made his prediction after the club publicly rebuffed “nonsense” claims over exiled striker Diego Costa.

Costa’s future has been a recurring theme at Chelsea since January, when he was linked with a move to the Chinese Super League and was left out of the squad at Leicester as rumours of tensions with Conte surfaced.

A lawyer stating he represented Costa threatened the Premier League champions with legal action after the striker, who is yet to return to Chelsea, was told he was free to leave.

A Chelsea spokesman said on Friday: “The premise the lawyer has put forward is just wrong.

“The lawyer’s argument that Antonio as a coach has forced the player out by text message in June is just nonsense.”

Conte has endured a challenging summer and has admitted Chelsea’s squad is too small ahead of a return to the Champions League.

And, after transforming the Blues from a 10th-placed team to champions in his first year in charge, Conte anticipates potential for trouble this term.

Jose Mourinho at Chelsea and Claudio Ranieri at Leicester both found themselves out of work in the season after their title wins.

“For me, it will be the most difficult season of my career,” said Conte, speaking ahead of Sunday’s Community Shield match against Arsenal at Wembley.

“For many reasons. It’s very difficult. I haven’t a lot of time to explain a lot of these reasons. But I’m sure about this.

“I have this perception and I hope I’ve made a mistake.”