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Diego Costa vs. Middlesbrough: Chelsea striker solidifies his credentials as 'one of the best in the world'

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As usual, there was plenty of focus on Diego Costa for Chelsea's match against Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium on Saturday, though unlike the last couple seasons and even at the very beginning of this season, the narrative has shifted from pantomime villain to a much more positive one lately.

Costa's now used as a public measuring stick for young defenders like Ben Gibson and game-plans to try to stop him involve more intricate instructions than just "go out there and kick him" to get him wound up. Boro boss Aitor Karanka, who had faced Costa a few times in Spain, lamented his side's moment of carelessness on Costa's winning goal, his 10th of the season, afterwards.

"Diego Costa is one of the top scorers in the world. Before the game I said to my players you can't lose him for one second and they lost him."

-Aitor Karanka; source: Sky via Star

Antonio Conte agreed with his opposite number's assessment.

"Diego is always important. He is the point of reference in our attack, and together with Eden and Pedro, they played a good game today. Diego is impressing with the way he is finding ways to score goals. It's important to continue in this way because we need his goals, Eden's goals, Willian's goals, Pedro's goals..."

"In the past, people asked me about his behaviour, his reaction, his passion, and now he's one of the best strikers in the world. He has to continue in this way. He is showing his passion in the right way. He is very focused on helping the team with and without the ball, and he is scoring goals."

-Antonio Conte; source: Chelsea FC

Costa has been wonderful all season, regardless of tactical system used, but things are going about as well lately as we could've ever hoped for. Consistency, reliability, and keeping the extracurriculars to a bare minimum — it's all coming together very nicely for the Premier League's leading goalscorer.