With speculation hailing the arrival of Diego Costa from Atletico Madrid as Chelsea Football club’s next big striker acquisition, many are calling an end to the curse that has haunted the club since the arrival of Fernando Torres from Liverpool Football Club.
Diego Costa has been making waves this season in Diego Simeone’s team. Atletico are on the cusps of wining the La Liga, and Diego Costa’s goals have been the driving factor behind their success. But is Diego Costa really the man capable of successfully leading Chelsea’s front line? To further elucidate this, we have to look back to the transfer window of January 2011, where another striker entered the club as the next big thing.
Fernando Torres joined Chelsea in a 50 million pound move from Liverpool. Back then, he was billed as the replacement for Club legend Didier Drogba, a man who was then at the twilight of his career. This situation, though not completely similar, mimics that of Diego Costa.
For Torres then, not only was a 50 million pound transfer fee weighing on his head, the striker was charged by the fans with the task of revitalizing a team that was then languishing in the premier league table. The result, as many would know, was nothing short of dreadful. Since his arrival till now, Torres has struggled to recreate his fabled performances for Liverpool. And now, he faces the axe in the summer.
The variety of reasons behind Torres’ disappointing performances had been heavily covered. Torres was a completely different striker, brought in to play for a team too accustomed to Drogba’s play style. Between the two, Drogba was a striker who held up play and used his strength and power to create chances for himself. Torres was a striker who clung onto the shoulder of the last defender, using his pace to latch onto through balls and score.
In a team then devoid of creative players capable of playing to Torres’ strengths, Torres was forced to adapt to a completely new play style. Torres began learning to play with his back to goal. His partnership with Drogba at times, was also a pairing that had zero chemistry.
With an underwhelming first season, the club chose to refocus their efforts into building a team around Torres. A creative player by the name of Juan Mata was brought in to help Torres flourish, but injuries, poor form and the renaissance of Drogba kept Torres away from the first team. His contributions of 11 goals in 49 appearances, despite winning the champions league marked another poor season.
In 2012/2013, the departure of Drogba and the arrival of creative starlets like Hazard and Oscar meant that the club had finally committed to Torres. However, as the season went on, despite the purchase of highly gifted playmakers, Torres failed to flourish.
Looking back, this author realizes that the environment at Chelsea had never quite suited the Spaniard despite the club’s transition towards playing more attractive football. This was mainly because with Hazard, Mata and Oscar behind him, Torres was forced to play on their wavelength instead.
For a striker used to hanging on the shoulder of the last defender, the triumvirate of Hazard, Oscar and Mata (and now Willian) caused a mismatch in playing style. Instead of long searching through balls to the striker, Chelsea’s creative midfielders like Hazard were given more freedom to dribble forward and create. Torres once again, had to adapt his play style to become more of a fox in the box, rather than a striker playing off the last defender. This is also probably why, Samuel Eto, a striker who came in more comfortable with playing on the flanks and in tight spaces around the box, fared better than Torres or Demba Ba.
Now as this season draws to a close, the imminent arrival of Diego Costa throws a new striker into the fray.
At a glance, statistics tell us that Deigo Costa is one of the most lethal strikers in the world. 27 goals in 32 appearances dwarf Chelsea’s combined front line output but they do not tell us his preferred play style. However, examining Chelsea’s match against Atletico Madrid in the Champions league semi-finals can provide a better picture.
During the match, Diego Costa lined up in a 4-4-2 and played off Raul Garcia. A majority of his touches were made with his back towards the goal. Costa also showed good heading and control to bring down long balls provided from midfield. In short, his qualities mimic that of Didier Drogba; strong, powerful and excellent in hold up play. But is a Drogba-like striker what Chelsea need at the moment?
There is without a doubt that Costa is the ideal striker for Jose Mourinho. After all, Drogba excelled under the Portuguese and Costa stands to do the same. But the circumstances now differ greatly. A team was built around Drogba. Costa now goes into a team already built. Diego Costa, though a virtuoso in the art of scoring goals like Drogba, seems to fit like a square peg in a round hole. A peg that could negatively affect the overall synergy of Chelsea’s attack.
For example, in 32 appearances this season, Diego Costa has created a total of 40 chances, a mere 3 of which led to assists. This is much lower than other “Well performing” strikers in Europe. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has created 66 chances (11 asists) while Suarez has created 80 chances (12 asists). Both have similar goal outputs with 25 goals and 30 goals respectively.
Though many might argue that chances created do not matter when it comes to strikers, this author begs to differ. In a highly unique midfield like Chelsea’s, it is important to not only bury the chances given, but also create chances for others.
A target man like Diego Costa may provide a good reference point for the team. However, an ability to bring out the best in the other players like Hazard counts towards creating a better team overall. This does not only merely refer to a striker who can slow down play and bring others into the attack, but also one who has the technical skills/vision to dribble at defences or play in various positions around the attacking third. These qualities however, do not seem to be key traits of Diego Costa.
Only time will tell whether Diego Costa can flourish in this new Chelsea squad. Diego Costa does possess better technical skills than Drogba though. Perhaps those factors would help him assimilate better into the Chelsea team. However, time needed for such a transition, could provide certain obstacles for Chelsea’s title challenges next season. Should another Torres like case occur, the consequences will be dire.
Admittedly, this writer believes that strikers in the mould of Luis Suarez (or the man himself. Although that is highly unlikely) represent the ideal purchase for Chelsea to top off a solid title challenging team. But with the confirmed purchase of Diego Costa lurking, fans should consider well before pinning all of their hopes on the Atletico Madrid striker being the solution to Chelsea’s striking woes.