Diego Costa was off in the 16th minute at the Camp Nou on Saturday evening, the chance for him to win the game and the league for Atletico taken away by a niggling injury that has troubled him for the past few weeks.
He’s a doubt for the Champions League final this weekend, but less so than he was after Atletico clinched the Spanish title with a 1-1 draw against Barcelona.
Here’s history repeating itself: Chelsea’s top centre-forward target battling against injuries ahead of a transfer. For those who want to take on that superstitious angle, this whole thing is setting itself up for another big-money striker failure at Stamford Bridge.
But there are obvious differences between Costa and Fernando Torres. Costa is the most sought-after striker in Europe. He’s scored 36 goals in all competitions, he’s in the form of his life and he had two of world football’s leading nations battling for his allegiance ahead of this summer’s World Cup. We don’t really remember anything like that before Torres swapped Anfield for Stamford Bridge in 2011.
At the time, Torres had been cut down by injuries and had lost some of his spark. That was all evident while in the red of Liverpool. What Costa is going through now is to be expected from a guy who’s played 54 games this season.
Torres was on the decline before Roman Abramovich decided to go against Carlo Ancelotti’s wishes and shell out £50 million for the Spaniard. It wasn’t the right move for Chelsea and it wasn’t the right move for Torres. There was simply too much in play that forced what eventually came to pass for the striker.
Costa is different. Costa won’t be going to Stamford Bridge to play in the shadow of Didier Drogba – or any other centre-forward. Chelsea need the Atletico striker in a way that they never did with Torres. The former is a necessity; the latter a luxury pursued with a Perez-like hunger for superstars.
Costa is the right type of player for this Chelsea team. The comparisons to Atletico’s style of play was made clear in that horrendous – let’s call a spade a spade – semi-final first leg in the Champions League. Costa plays on the counterattack. He bullies; he winds up defenders; he’s quick where Torres wasn’t, at least in comparison to his former self; he doesn’t rely so heavily on playmakers in the way Torres does; and he makes the most of his scoring opportunities, again a contrast to what Chelsea have been getting from their current Spanish international.
It’s easy to say Costa is set to be another big-name failure at Chelsea because of what’s happened over the past 10 years, but every sporting curse, jinx or whatever we’re going to call it gets broken eventually – Costa and Atletico know all about it after beating Real Madrid after a 14-year wait.
And in any case, this isn’t really a curse that Chelsea are under. Torres wasn’t the right move, nor was Andriy Shevchenko. The Ukrainian was also not wanted by the manager at the time, Jose Mourinho, and no matter how good he was in Italy, it’s always a big ask for a 30-year-old to successfully transfer his qualities to an unfamiliar league and country.
Those are the two that standout in the way of major failures in the striking department, but we can look at the less glamorous transfers too. Samuel Eto’o isn’t the player he was, and despite being cheap and useful, his current ability doesn’t allow for anything beyond a backup. Nicolas Anelka wasn’t really a failure, he scored 59 times in a Chelsea shirt but either struggled or became frustrated, like others, in a system that suited Drogba. Daniel Sturridge became yet another number in a long list of young players who were never really afforded the chance to develop at Chelsea; his form at Liverpool this season suggests the club made a mistake in letting him go. To sum up, there’s usually an explanation behind Chelsea’s failure to land a winner.
Costa, however, will lead a new-look attack at Stamford Bridge next season. The focus will be on him and the manager, you’d assume, will structure his team to suit Costa’s strengths, though as mentioned very will work is needed.
This is a player far from on the decline and there’s a certainty about him that wasn’t present when Torres made his move in 2011.