Diego Costa reveals he nearly quit Chelsea for Atletico
Diego Costa last night admitted he wanted to leave Chelsea last summer and was on the verge of a move back to Atletico Madrid before the deal fell through.
The Spanish striker has since been directly involved in 19 goals this season - more than any other player in Europe's top five divisions - to continue the west London club's push for the title.
Costa did not reveal what prevented the switch back to the club he left in 2014 but has no regrets about staying at Stamford Bridge.
"Could I have gone in the summer? Yes, yes. I was about to leave," he said. "But, well, I'm happy here as well and that's that. Did I want to go? Yes, yes. Because of a few things, the family, the life I have there but not because of Chelsea, because, here, there's a lot of love with the supporters, with the people, so I'm here very happy, I'm very content.
"People love me a lot. There was one thing I wanted to change for family reasons but, well, it wasn't to be and I continue to be happy here."
Costa's relationship with Jose Mourinho was widely believed to have soured last season as Chelsea's title defence imploded in acrimony, so his glowing tribute to the Portuguese's successor, Antonio Conte, felt pointed.
"It was important too that the manager, from the first minute, said he counted on me," he said. "The truth is the manager is good with the players, every time making more jokes with the players, and that's good for us, to have a manager who is not just a boss but like a person we can talk with, someone whose support we can count on in difficult moments. He is calm with the players and you can see the people love him more all the time."
Conte has been able to get the best out of a player who had appeared to have fallen out with English football last season, when Costa hit the news more because of his repeated disciplinary issues.
This term, he has cut a more sanguine figure, retaining the muscular aggression which can make him unplayable, but losing the corrosive rage which infected him too often last season.
"I know what I have to do," he said. "I know when I do bad, so I thought about it and knew I had to improve that aspect because, here in the Premier League, there's no mercy. A lot of the time it seemed like they [referees] were against me. If they're not going to change, I had to change."
The 28-year-old scored the clinching fourth goal, his 14th of the season so far, five minutes from time against Stoke on Saturday with a typical Costa goal, picking the ball up in the area, bullying the hapless Bruno Martins Indi and unleashing an unstoppable shot into the roof of the net.
But Chelsea did not have it all their own way. While Costa's impact on defences is dramatic, Peter Crouch was able almost to replicate the Spaniard at the other end as Conte's back three were given their sternest test in weeks.
After Gary Cahill had headed the hosts into a first-half lead, Crouch's aerial ability caused problems, as his header down set up Martins Indi's volleyed equaliser less than a minute after the restart. Willian put Chelsea back ahead after good play by Victor Moses and Eden Hazard, but Crouch again proved his worth by scoring from close range on 64 minutes, before Willian scored his second less than 60 seconds later. Costa's fine goal sealed victory.
Chelsea, who are six points clear at the top, next turn their attentions to Tottenham on Wednesday, a fixture that brought out the worst in both sides at Stamford Bridge in May. "It's a derby," he said. "Both want to win. It's a London derby, so the match is played a bit stronger but there's no problem with it. We go there looking to do the best we can."
Conte, knowing that victory could give Chelsea an almost unassailable lead at the top added: "It is the biggest challenge."
Stoke may have dropped down to within seven points of the relegation zone with this result but they can be bitterly disappointed to have lost, given the problems they caused the leaders, particularly through Crouch.
"There's life in the old dog yet, clearly," Stoke manager Mark Hughes said. "He's 35 now. Peter's got more game time left in him. I've been with him for four seasons, he hasn't changed in terms of what he can offer and what he can produce." (© Daily Telegraph, London)