Diego Simeone has dropped the strongest hint yet that Chelsea striker Diego Costa will re-join Atletico Madrid after stating a deal could be completed in the January transfer window. The Spain international will leave Stamford Bridge this summer after being deemed surplus to requirements by manager Antonio Conte, despite leading the club to the Premier League title last term.

Costa netted 20 goals as the Blues romped to the title but a falling out with Conte, followed by the signing of Alvaro Morata from Real Madrid, has seen his future prospects in west London dwindle. Conte has confirmed the 28-year-old will leave the club but his destination is yet to be finalised.

Atletico remain the leading contender given Costa's emotional relationship with the club with whom he has spent two previous spells, the latest coming between 2010 and 2014 during which time he led them to the La Liga title and the Champions League final. But the club's transfer embargo prohibits them from completing a deal until January 2018, while Chelsea's £44m valuation may also prove to be a stumbling block.

Simeone has now indicated that a January deal could be in the offing. "We talk about the players who are here and how the team has been working to keep all the players here," he said ahead of Atletico's participation in the Audi Cup, according to The Daily Mail.

"All the players want to stay, they want to achieve even better goals and get even better. Diego Costa? If he comes in January... We can't say anything about that yet. I won't speak about him now. He is a player of Chelsea. We will talk about the boys who are here now. That is what is important."

Big-spending Serie A giants AC Milan and Chinese Super League side Tianjin Quanjin have both been linked with a move for Costa, but Atletico are considered the front-runners. It was reported in July that Simeone is hopeful of luring Costa back to the Spanish capital before the end of the summer transfer window where he will train until he can be registered in January, while there remains no prospect of him being involved at Chelsea.

The option to loan him to a club in China or Brazil has reportedly been shelved meaning Costa may have to risk being inactive for the first half of the campaign in the final domestic season before the 2018 World Cup. Quanjin's interest has weakened amid continued attempts by the league to curb spending, with a host of clubs threatened with a domestic ban if they don't pay outstanding debts.

Milan meanwhile have held talks with Costa's agent Jorge Mendes, amid speculation the club are interested in the Brazilian-born forward. The Rosseneri have been among the most active clubs in Europe this summer with their spending, thanks to new Chinese ownership, totaling over £160m.

Diego Costa
Costa won the title with Chelsea last season but has been quickly discarded by Conte. Getty Images