LONDON -- Antonio Conte has revealed that Branislav Ivanovic may not start for Chelsea against Brentford in Saturday's FA Cup fourth-round tie and admitted he does not know whether the Serbia international will leave Stamford Bridge in January.
Ivanovic has not started a Premier League game for Chelsea since Conte's decision to shift to a 3-4-3 formation in late September and was omitted from the match day squad entirely for Sunday's 2-0 win over Hull City despite being fully fit.
Zenit St Petersburg and West Brom have both reportedly expressed an interest in a January move for Ivanovic, whose contract expires in the summer, and Conte did nothing to quell the speculation surrounding the 32-year-old's future in a media conference on Friday.
Asked if Ivanovic would start against Brentford, Conte replied: "No, no." When pressed on whether Chelsea's vice-captain is injured, he added: "He's in the list, not injured. In the squad."
Conte would not be drawn either way on whether Ivanovic will still be a Chelsea player beyond Tuesday's transfer deadline.
"I don't know because, I repeat, there are four days and, in this month, there are a lot of speculation and I don't know if anything happens about him," the Italian insisted. "Sometimes I think that you [journalists] know more than me."
Asked why Ivanovic had failed to find a place in his starting XI since the switch to 3-4-3, Conte replied: "I think this season that Ivanovic has played with me. He started 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."
One player who will feature against Brentford is Ruben Loftus-Cheek. The talented 21-year-old has been limited to starts in only the EFL Cup and FA Cup this season, but Conte is adamant that the youngster's development would not be best served by leaving on loan in January.
"The first thing to say is that, when there are young players, you must understand where is the team where they are?" Conte asked. "Chelsea are a top team and to play in Chelsea is not easy. 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 come back. It's very difficult to play in the academy and then the first team.
"We are talking about a top team at the top level, so it's not often this happens, that a player is so strong he can play. Ruben has good qualities, good characteristics to stay with us in the first team, but you must take this decision at the start of the season, not during.
"During the season, it's very difficult to change this situation. In January, are we sure that a young player will go [on loan] and play? You have to evaluate the situation in the right moment, the right solution, for the player and the club, and take the solution together."
Ivanovic is not the only senior figure whose future is uncertain.
Conte also commented on the status of No. 2 goalkeeper Asmir Begovic, who he said will only be allowed to leave Chelsea if a suitable replacement can be found.
The Blues are considering an offer from Bournemouth for the 29-year-old former Stoke goalkeeper, who is back-up to first-choice Thibaut Courtois.
Conte says Begovic will start against Brentford, but declined to say whether Celtic's Craig Gordon was under consideration as a replacement. Gordon's manager Brendan Rodgers confirmed on Friday that Chelsea had made an offer for the Scotland international.
"Begovic [will] start,'' Conte said. "Begovic is a Chelsea player. It's important to understand this. I'm very happy to have him to stay in the squad.
"We are open to help him if there is the opportunity to replace him in the best way. If it's not possible, Begovic stays with us.''
Begovic signed a four-year contract on joining Chelsea in the summer of 2015, replacing Petr Cech after he left for Arsenal.
The Bosnia-Herzegovina goalkeeper has made four Chelsea appearances this season.
Conte was again coy on the prospect of players leaving or moving to Stamford Bridge in the final days of the transfer window, which closes on Tuesday evening.
Ola Aina, like Ivanovic a right-sided player, could be allowed to leave on loan for the second half of the campaign, Conte said.
But the Italian is still to decide whether Charly Musonda and Kenedy will play for Chelsea this season.
The pair have been training with their parent club after the premature ending of their loans, but playing for the Blues would rule them ineligible to play elsewhere this season.
Conte plans to rotate his options against Brentford due to the proximity of key games against Premier League title rivals.
Chelsea play Liverpool next Tuesday night and Arsenal on Feb. 4.
Gary Cahill has reported no ill-effects from the accidental collision which left Hull's Ryan Mason with a fractured skull, but the England defender is set for a rest for the first time this term.
Conte said: "We play two games very tough against two rivals to win the league, but for me now my focus, my concentration is to go into the next round of the FA Cup.
"I hope the same thought is in the mind of my players. It's an opportunity for us -- for me -- to see many players who are not playing.''
Captain John Terry could feature following his dismissal during the third-round win over Peterborough and subsequent suspension.
And Nathan Ake, who can play left wing-back or as one of Conte's back three, will get a chance after he was recalled from Bournemouth.
Information from Press Association Sport was used in this story.