The referee put his whistle to his mouth, and blew for the final time that night. Its screech echoed around a packed Vicente Calderon which within milliseconds had erupted into a rapturous roar, half joy, and half relief. Fan favourite Diego Costa collapsed into a heap on the pitch, reaching out in front of him to stretch his shattered muscles. Atletico had scraped a win in the first leg of their Copa Del Rey Quarter Final tie, a gruelling, hard –fought victory, over the pride and joy of the Basque country, Athletic. Atletico, not for the first time in recent weeks, were below par, yet had done just enough to see off the challenge of Ernesto Valverde’s rejuvenated outfit.
The reward on offer, the hectic recent schedule and the rivalry between both clubs lead to the production of a passion fuelled, quality lacking, relatively lacklustre affair. Yet still, viewers weren’t to be left disappointed, due to the commitment, endeavour and energy shown by all twenty two men. This was highlighted especially in the performance of Diego Costa, who as usual, left every ounce of energy on the pitch. Yet, still, his goalless streak had been extended to a worrying 7 games. The man who had notched 19 times in La Liga before Christmas, and had thus been the name on everyone’s lips, lay exasperated on the pitch, struggling to hide his frustration over his inability to regain such form.
If ever there was a game that reflected the qualities of a certain player, this was Diego Costa’s. Energy in abundance, every man fighting passionately for the result, and for his team mates, but ultimately lacking that extra bit of class over the ninety minutes, which separates the world class from the rest.
Three years ago, Diego Costa was a relative nobody. His rise to prominence is remarkable by anyone’s standards. Still relatively young at 25, Costa occupied the Daily Mail’s gossip columns for the entirety of the January transfer window, with endless links to Arsenal, Chelsea and every other team with cash in the bank. However, the rumours never left the Daily Mail, and there’s a perfectly valid reason behind that. Costa is an excellent player, but is quite a way off the top players in his position.
Costa is by no means a bad player, he’s a very good one. He’s a quality goal scorer from inside the box yet has failed to find the back of the net (or generally trouble the keeper) from outside the 18 yard box. His greatest strengths are his work rate and his ability to twist a defender inside out when one on one in order to manufacture a shooting opportunity for himself. However, teams seem to have figured out how to prevent this situation from arising, Costa in the post Christmas games has rarely found himself in this position that he is so lethal from. Once he is doubled, tripled, or sometimes quadrupled up on he rarely breaks free with the ball. More often than not, he’ll win a throw in, sometimes a corner, but rarely will he beat more than one man. It may be a bit premature to say teams have figured out how to defend against Costa, considering the multi dimensions in his game, however La Liga defences are no longer leaving him one on one with a defender.
Quick off the block, remarkable stamina and strength both on, and off the ball means he possesses a physique desired by any professional footballer, not only this but his use of his body is extremely intelligent. He is well accustomed to throwing his body about and has never been shy of barging into an opponent. Though his aerial ability has plenty of room for improvement, he is a nightmare to challenge in the air due to his bullish, ‘you’re coming down with me’ approach. Costa’s attitude and commitment to his team’s cause is faultless. He will cover every blade of grass ten times over, bullying defenders and working tirelessly for his team mates. While this is undoubtedly a great trait in any player, do you really want to spend big on a striker whose best asset is his work rate?
There’s few of them, or at least due to Simeone’s remarkable ability to get the very best out of every single player in his team, very few of them are apparent. However, in another team they may be documented more often. His link up play, to put it bluntly, is poor. Costa boasts a mere 4 assists in all competitions this season. He does not provide the passes or the long range goals the top strikers such as Suarez, Van Persie and Ibrahimovic do to put their team mates in threatening positions. He can hold the ball up and shrug off a defender or two, but when it comes to playing that killer ball, the Spanish international comes up short. He is much more than just a penalty box striker, but when it comes to end product you would rather chances from outside the white line falling to a more capable team mate.
Who needs him?
Chelsea, Arsenal, Dortmund, Real Madrid and many more clubs can and need to improve their strike forces. I believe he would be
a poor fit for Arsenal, the link up play of their number 9 is almost as important to their team as goals in order to bring the runners such as Ramsey and Walcott into play and present them with a goal scoring opportunity. Perhaps Chelsea is his best option, Mourinho will certainly adore his work rate while the creative forces behind should provide him with more than enough opportunities inside the area to be a success. His ability to stretch defences and work the channels will also create more space for the 3 behind him meaning his presence will take their already impressive performances, to another level. Should he join the blues, or in fact any Premier League team, he will be the most hated player in the league within a month of his arrival due to his tenacious, restless and at times personal battles with defenders.
Possibly Costa’s most redeeming trait is his overall effect on the team performance. His individual ability on the ball is already very good but when he has a bad game and does not use possession wisely, or he does not have much of the ball, he is still effective at charging defenders down and hassling the other team. Costa can have a great influence on his team’s performance and result without actually scoring himself because of his willingness to sacrifice himself when his side aren’t in possession. He does not rely on goals for effect like a Javier Hernandez, or a Torres would. He offers more than just goals from inside the 18 yard box despite what statistics may tell you.
Ultimately, I think Costa is a very good player. He’s very well rounded with plenty of strengths and few weaknesses. However, I believe his current hype is flattering him. He can win a match when his team are dominating and playing well, but when his side are struggling, it’s rare he produces a moment of individual brilliance on the ball to steal the points. Without a doubt he can be a match winner, but only with assistance from his team mates. He is very good, but for me, for the moment at least, not top class. Given his improvement over the last 2 years, we may not have long to wait until he changes that.