Chelsea enter key period in need of Costa resurgence
Chelsea begin potentially the definitive spell of their season this weekend still at the mercy of the form and focus of Diego Costa.
Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday and then Porto at home a week on Wednesday are the two biggest games of their season so far, the type of game they can win only when Costa is at his best.
The Spanish striker is not the most able player at the club but only Eden Hazard can match his importance. When he plays well, Chelsea are dangerous in open play, capable of beating good sides thanks to his leadership from the front. When Costa does not, as has been the case all season, the team look blunted, clumsy and distracted by comparison.
One third of the way through this season, Costa has just scored four goals, having got 20 in 2014-’15. Compared with the man who hit the ground running after joining from Atletico Madrid, he looks half the player, and specifically the bad half: all of the noise and nonsense, and none of the football.
That was the case on Tuesday in the 4-0 win at Maccabi Tel Aviv, where his only meaningful contribution in 90 minutes against limited opposition was to provoke his manager Jose Mourinho’s fury for neglecting to run on to a pass.
They had a ferocious row and, while Mourinho said it was solved with a “kiss and cuddle” at half-time, that is not how it looked as the pair ignored each other on the final whistle.
If Chelsea’s defence has been stabilised in the last few weeks – they have conceded two goals in their last four games – the bigger issue is their struggling attack. They remain excessively dependent on set-pieces, especially Willian’s free-kicks, with both Hazard and Costa miles away from the high standards they set last season.
Chelsea, simply, do not create or score anywhere near enough in open play. Mourinho spoke with delight on Tuesday about Oscar’s late header from Baba Rahman’s cross. “Oscar’s goal was the one I was happy with,” he said. “Finally, we had someone in the box attacking a good delivery.”
This creative drought makes it very difficult to beat good opponents. The list of sides they have beaten this season, excepting Arsenal’s Costa-inspired self-destruction at Stamford Bridge, is instructive: Maccabi (twice), West Brom, Aston Villa, Norwich City, Walsall and Dynamo Kiev.
While recent results suggest Chelsea have stopped spiralling down, they have not made clear yet that they are moving back in the right direction.
What Chelsea need, if they are really to turn the season around, is to squeeze the best out of Costa, if only Mourinho can get through to him (© Independent News Service)