I'm a diehard Blues fan, so seeing Atletico Madrid's Diego Costa digging a hole to China at our penalty spot did more than add insult to injury; it felt personal. I didn't like the guy already, but then he pulls an obviously malicious move like that? Unbearable. But I recognize that this isn't my head speaking, but rather my heart. When it comes to football, business decisions are best made with the mind.
With that in mind, I'm stepping into the shoes of Roman Abramovich here, and taking a look at the potential purchase of that curiously Brazilian Spaniard who may be available this summer.
By reputation, Costa is a hard-working, pacy, and strong forward with a clear eye for goal. More or less, he seems to have it all, and with his 6'2" (1.88m) frame he's got the desirable size to match his qualities. And at only 25, Costa is probably just beginning to reach his peak form. Well, that all looks like quite the package. Let's take a look at the stats, brought to you by Whoscored.com, because it's pretty.
Can't really argue with those numbers. I mean, really, that's a hell of a tear he's been on. 35 goals from 41 appearances is an absolutely ridiculous return, any way you slice it. His rate of return is especially ludicrous in the Champions League, where he scores every time he's on the pitch. I say again, every time. Okay, more yellows than I'd like to see, but that's something that could be worked on.
Now to the tapes!
So these are his goals from the 2013 calendar year, so far as I can tell (ignore the video title, it's clearly wrong; the video was posted before 2014 and includes Falcao for half). Impressive, unquestionably.
A few notes:
1) He took penalties. This is a complicated factor because it's always nice to have a good penalty taker, but the easier goals have padded his stats a bit. So I'd consider this a pro and a con, but mostly just something to keep in mind when evaluating his goal tally.
2) He scored a lot of headers and/or from set pieces. While Chelsea haven't done much crossing, they win a fair amount of corners and free kicks, so having added talent in this regard is never a bad thing. One thing to consider is that English defenses tend to be more physical and on average have more height in the sides, but I imagine Costa would still be a major threat.
3) Of the goals he scores from open play almost all came on the counter, as opposed to breaks through a defense that is organized and set behind the ball. Don't get me wrong, most strikers score most of their goals when there is space. That's simply logical, as it's when the best and frankly, the most chances arrive. However, I don't see evidence of Costa breaking down defenses, playing one-twos, or scoring under pressure from distance. The one exception is his excellent run in behind the defense in the first 10 seconds of the video. The ball is dinked over the top, and he finishes well. However, this is really the only time we see him "beat the bus."
To be fair to him, let's take a look at some more recent video. Here's a highlight reel from this season, and I'm sorry for the overlap:
Boom. Right off the bat (the second goal, around 30 seconds in), he makes a smart run in behind, pounces on the ball and puts it where it belongs. But then it turns into another demo in headers, pens, set pieces, and scoring on the counter. The video ends with a nasty injury after he went full speed into the post. I respect that hunger and determination.
In order to understand a player, we really need to watch the full games. For example, one thing missing from these highlights is his high work rate in attack and defense. This video from Scout Nation makes note of that attribute and also shows a couple of his assists. Frankly, they were nothing special and often looked like the player was poorly-equipped to make the killer pass.
So, a final verdict? What does the Spanzilian striker offer?
Goals on the counter, goals on set pieces, goals as a target man, and the occasional penalty if Hazard or Lamps aren't on the pitch. Undoubtedly, if Chelsea signed Diego Costa, they would get goals in return. If I'm Roman Abramovich, I turn to my good friend and the man with whom I've entrusted my club for the foreseeable future. I ask Jose Mourinho what he thinks. And what does the Special/Happy One say?
"One thing is to play for Everton, another is to play for Chelsea."
I don't remember exactly where (although the above quote can be found in the Independent and others), but somewhere, Jose elaborates upon what he was saying about why he didn't regret loaning out Lukaku. Teams play differently, and Everton plays differently from Chelsea, just as Atletico Madrid plays differently from Chelsea (though one might argue that the latter is a much smaller distinction). Moreover, and more importantly, teams play differently against Chelsea than they do against the likes of Everton and Atletico. As such, neither striker is someone whose success in another club (and league, in Diego Costa's case) translates into success leading the line at Chelsea.
An important disclaimer looms in front of me. A player's success is somewhat dependent on his system. Diego Costa might be scoring bags from distance if that's what it required, but he doesn't have to because the system he plays in utilizes set pieces well and springs the counter so effectively. If I were Abramovich, I'd take a hard look at the players that have come out of Atletico. Falcao is indubitably world class, but never tried his hand in English football, and hasn't had a chance to shine at Monaco. Villa (from similar Valencia) cut a dazzling figure for a while in Barca, but never really looked like anything more than a supporting striker. Fernando Torres was a hurricane of devastation against Premier League defenses, until his speed waned (I'd guess he and Diego Costa would be pretty evenly matched nowadays) and he's stumbled with a side that regularly faces two lines of defense behind the ball. Sergio Aguero seems to me the success story you'd hope Diego Costa could emulate, but the Spanzilian doesn't exactly strike me as quite so electric and well-rounded as the Man City man.
The question I'd have to ask myself, as I swam in my Scrooge McDuck vault, is a simple and yet crucial one: would he be enough? Chelsea have nearly reached the end of a season wherein it is truly only the battles against the likes of Crystal Palace and Sunderland that have cost them the Premier League title. So as I weigh the bags of cash I'm planning to invest in the clubs striking future, I wonder whether I should be spending money not on a striker that is merely a more clinical version of the ones we have, or rather another type altogether. Do I seek out the bus beater to complement Lukaku and round out my current squad?
But maybe that's just me. Your thoughts?