Why Chelsea’s Diego Costa will need time to rediscover his equilibrium 0

Atletico Madrid's Diego Costa

When his transfer was eventually completed, Diego Costa’s move from Atletico Madrid came at quite a price to Chelsea.  Roman Abramovic gave in to Jose Mourinho’s season-long complaints about his forward unit and sanctioned a £32m outlay which is supposed to correct the balance in front-third of the side.

Costa is worth the money; whilst goals are a commodity that Mourinho desperately needs from his centre-forward (Demba Ba, Fernando Torres and Samuel Eto’o combined for just 19 in the league last season) Chelsea’s determination to take the naturalised Spaniard away from La Liga was predicated on more than just his ability to change the scoreline.  Costa is a workmanlike, blue-collared forward who is a natural fit for the high work-rate ethos Mourinho has installed at Stamford Bridge, and he is really the perfect ‘number nine’ for this team whether they’re in possession in or not.

A bit part of the philosophy preached by Mourinho is the retrieval of the ball.  When Chelsea are dispossessed they don’t just rely on two blocks to protect them, instead they aggressively pursue possession and all eleven players acquire a defensive responsibility - to do that, a manager needs offensive players who are prepared to work harder than they probably have done at any other club and who possess the requisite defensive attributes.

Costa ticks those boxes, and as well as being a line-leader this season he will also, in effect, be the side’s first defender.

When it comes to assessing £32m forwards, however, that kind of contribution doesn’t usually matter.  Forwards should score goals, and if they don’t they’re not performing as they should - that is the consensus perception and, for as long as football is mainly viewed in highlight form, it always will be.

Because of that, Costa may need to be afforded  some patience.  A forward’s confidence may blunt his goal-scoring instinct, but it generally won’t effect his link-play or his ability to be part of a team’s structure.  However, if he starts slowly in England and he produces a meagre statistical return in his first ten games, expect the alarmist factions within the game to start questioning his transfer-fee.

Diego Costa’s 2013/14 can be split into two sections: the way he played between September and the end of March, and his form from April through to the end of Spain’s World Cup.  The graphic below (via Squawka) charts his cumulative goal tally against his league appearances across that time period:

That may not seem significant, but anyone who watched Costa during those last few La Liga will have tell you the same thing: he had big fitness issues, everything about his play around the penalty-box was a little more ‘clunky’ and his confidence was evidently quite low.  Of course, it’s worth remembering that he wasn’t really fit enough to be playing and that his selection was a necessary part of Atletico’s title pursuit, but that was still form that he carried with him to the World Cup - when he was healthy and when he still didn’t look right.

None of that effects his ability as a player or really his potentially value to Chelsea, but like most athletes he will need to emotionally rehabilitate from what was a very disappointing period.  His club may have been Spanish champions, but he lasted just sixteen minutes of their coronation game versus Barcelona, he limped out of the Champions League final and presumably carries regrets about what he could have contributed in Benfica and, of course, he was very much a part of Spain’s humiliation in Brazil.

Sequences like that don’t scar players forever, but they can linger.  There are actually a series of eery parallels here between Costa and Fernando Torres.  The latter entered the 2010 World Cup off the back of a 22-goal season for Liverpool, but had his tournament curtailed by a nasty hamstring injury - that obviously wasn’t the sole explanation for what happened next in his career, but it felt like the first of a series of unfortunate events and an entry point for a form-slump that has lasted until the present day.

There’s no reason whatsoever that Diego Costa will head down that path, but it’s just worth remembering that he has arrived at Chelsea whilst on a mini down-trend.  If he was still in Madrid, maybe he would need two or three games to rediscover his equilibrium, but in England - with a new set of teammates, the burden of having to prove himself, and the expectation created by his transfer-fee - he might need a slightly longer honeymoon period.

There’s a whole lot of good to Diego Costa and he may well become an icon and a cornerstone of Mourinho’s new Chelsea side, but be wary of assuming that his impact will be immediate.

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