Tuesday 24 April 2018

Costa's indiscipline threatens Conte's Chelsea revival

Watford 1-2 Chelsea

Chelsea's Diego Costa applauds the fans after the final whistle. Photo: PA
Chelsea's Diego Costa applauds the fans after the final whistle. Photo: PA

Steve Tongue

If Chelsea are to rely on Diego Costa for late winning goals this season - as has happened in both Premier League games so far - they will need to ensure that he is still on the pitch.

At Watford on Saturday, just as against West Ham in last Monday's success by the same score, he could easily have been dismissed by a stricter referee shortly before coming up with the decisive strike.

Once more, he had been shown a yellow card for dissent - in this case claiming to have been fouled before Watford broke away to take the lead with a fierce shot from Etienne Capoue.

A second yellow card should have followed for a theatrical dive as Chelsea found some belated urgency - inspired by manager Antonio Conte's three substitutions.

Instead, the Spanish international was able to pounce on a perfect through pass from replacement Cesc Fabregas and beat Heurelho Gomes, who had earlier failed to hold Eden Hazard's low drive, allowing Michy Batshuayi, another substitute, to equalise.

Conte agreed that the first yellow card was deserved but was not prepared to agree that a second should have been shown.

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte. Photo: Reuters
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte. Photo: Reuters

A passionate man, he admires similar qualities in his main striker, but has already found it necessary to warn him about improving his disciplinary record.

Even without red cards, Costa will soon find himself suspended if the yellows continue to be flashed at him under the new clampdown on dissent.

"Diego must be focused on the game and not take notice of other players, or managers or the press who say bad things about him," Conte said.

"It's important to pay attention during the game. He's an important player. He can score a lot of goals and I want him to put himself in the game and not think of other situations.

Chelsea's Michy Batshuayi celebrates scoring their first goal. Photo: Reuters
Chelsea's Michy Batshuayi celebrates scoring their first goal. Photo: Reuters

"I try to speak with all my players and with them individually too. But what I say to them I prefer to keep between me and them."

One consolation is that, if and when Costa suffers an almost inevitable ban - there were two prolonged ones last season - Chelsea have in Batshuayi a £33m striker who could prove worth something close to the "crazy" prices Conte has complained about.

Fabregas also did enough to suggest he is worth a starting place instead of Nemanja Matic against Burnley on Saturday, now that N'Golo Kante has confirmed he can cope quite happily as a lone holding midfielder.

Only once last season did Chelsea manage to win successive league games, a shocking record for defending champions.

"It was important in these two games to win because you can continue to work as confidence rises," Conte said.

"We needed to start in the right way. Now we have to continue. But so far I am happy."

So are the club's supporters, already won over by an emotional man whose touchline animation makes Jose Mourinho look a shrinking violet, yet still remains sufficiently composed to change the personnel and tactics to good effect.

"When my team plays, I play with them on the touchline," he explained. "I try in every moment to suggest the right pass or the right position.

"It's important because sometimes when the play is open on one side it's important to shout. Then at the end of the game when you play with 4-2-4 to shout for them to stay very wide. I know sometimes they hear and sometimes they choose not to!"

Irish Independent

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