Diego Costa

Diego Costa – The Guerilla Footballer

For a man who spent most of this summer declaring his undying love for Atletico Madrid and an unyielding desire to return to the Spanish capital, Diego Costa seems to be enjoying life under Antonio Conte at Chelsea.

The sneering, repugnant street-fighting footballer of last season still lurks beneath the surface but a smile has returned to the face of the Spanish international. The goals are flowing and he has earned a recall to the national squad. Life is going well for Costa.

What on earth has happened to change his fortunes?

Chelsea as a whole are more settled this season, with a highly respected coach who has injected new life into the club.. The summer saw talk of Alvaro Morata and James Rodriguez arriving at Stamford Bridge, forcing Costa out. Neither did and with only Michy Batshuayi as serious competition for his first team place, the striker can relax a little.

The pressure to perform is still there – it always will be at a club of Chelsea’s size and stature – but he is happy and able to reproduce his form week after week. It helps that the team are playing better and consistently well.

It’s baffling how they only drew at Swansea City last Sunday. Costa was unplayable at times. He scored twice – the second a stunning overhead kick – and might have had a couple more. Disappointingly, his efforts went unrewarded as defensive lapses allowed the Welsh club to take an undeserved point.

Not that this season has been easy for Costa. During the opening weekend win over West Ham United at Stamford Bridge, he scored the Blues late winner but there were many who rightly claimed he should have been dismissed for a dangerous challenge on the Hammers goalkeeper, Adrian. Conte went out of his way to defend his striker against the charge in the media afterwards; Diego felt the love.

A similar claim followed in the away win at Watford. A late winner preceded by dubious play saw Conte temper his defence of the player. “He must”, the Italian said, “transfer his emotions to the pitch in the right way. Always.”

That was after he had told Costa that he welcomed his style. “I want him to play with the right passion and the right aggression.” Where others have failed in controlling the Brazilian-born striker’s narkiness, Conte has succeeded. The pattern of the early games – goals accompanied by yellow cards – has been broken; last weekend was just the goals.

And smiles emerged. It wasn’t a portent of doom, a sign of the impending apocalypse; it’s a sign of a player comfortable with his surroundings, feeling valued. Man-management with Costa is vital.

As Costa plummeted the depths of his darkness last season, Diego Simeone spoke of a sensitive soul, whose style of play didn’t reflect the person. If that is an accurate assessment, happier times at Stamford Bridge and the Cobham training ground will help to bring the best out of him.

A sense of renewed purpose rather than the listlessness of last season, focuses minds wonderfully. Like a classroom of errant teenagers left to their own devices, Chelsea were hard to enjoy last season, even for the Blues faithful. Not just the lack of silverware but the football by and large, wasn’t pleasant as they struggled to reach mid-table obscurity. It wasn’t supposed to be that way but the fallout from Jose Mourinho’s departure clearly affected the squad.

Conte has a vibrancy fuelled by his footballing passion and that transfers to the players. He is known to use a megaphone at training such is the damage his does to his voice by shouting. The prowling of the touchline, celebrating every goal, kicking every ball, is the matchday manifestation of that passion.

Players find the enthusiasm infectious, needing less motivation. Diego Costa needs that energy, feeding off it. Diego Simeone has a similar managerial style and the striker remains on good terms with the Argentinian. They have harnessed the aggression and turned it into work-rate.

Chelsea in particular benefit from this. Conte prefers the pressing game, a high-energy tempo which forces opponents into making mistakes. That starts at the front and Costa has embraced that philosophy, reliving his time at Atletico in England.

That was the most noticeable aspect of his performance against Swansea. He was constantly on the shoulder of every member of the home side’s defence, never giving them a moment’s rest. The pressure forced mistakes and caused nervousness to surface to the extent where Francesco Guidolin altered his tactics in response to Costa and the Chelsea attacking dynamic.

Some players need to have demons, an imaginary enemy in their minds, something to rail against. Costa is one of those and last Sunday, controlled himself. The final whistle saw an outburst of raw emotion explode; the fight during the match to keep his emotions in check was hard on him.

The big test comes when Chelsea visit Arsenal next weekend. Gabriel, his nemesis from last season, won’t be there, injury keeping him out but the atmosphere will be hostile. Two Arsenal players were sent off in the matches between the two clubs last season. Costa will be goaded by the crowd, provoked and abused.

If he can keep his wits about him in that environment, then we might believe that Diego Costa has found a way to let his undoubted talent shine stronger than his temper.

About the Author Moha

Hardcore fun of the beautiful game. Played soccer for different clubs in my country before hanging up my boots. Now writer for My Soccer HQ

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