Saturday 16 December 2017

Costa facing bite ban as Lukaku ends Blues' season

Everton 2-0 Chelsea

Chelsea's Diego Costa is shown the red card by referee Michael Oliver. Photo: PA
Chelsea's Diego Costa is shown the red card by referee Michael Oliver. Photo: PA
Everton's Romelu Lukaku celebrates scoring their first goal. Photo: Reuters
Chelsea's Diego Costa in action with Everton's Gareth Barry and Leighton Baines. Photo: Reuters
Everton's James McCarthy challenges Chelsea's Willian. Photo: Reuters
Chelsea's John Terry looks dejected. Photo: Reuters

Sam Wallace

In the summer of 2014, Chelsea sold one striker to buy another and, 21 months later, the diverging fortunes of Romelu Lukaku and Diego Costa will again give last season's champions cause to wonder how on earth they came to make that decision.

For Lukaku, there were two brilliant goals and a place for Everton in the FA Cup semi-finals. For Costa, disgrace once again: a red card for two bookable offences, the second of which seemed to have been a bite on Gareth Barry as the Brazilian thrust his face into his opponent's neck. Chelsea's season is over, and there will be no FA Cup swansong for Guus Hiddink or European football next season, but for Costa it is looking much more serious.

If Costa is found to have bitten Barry, then he can expect a ban that takes him beyond the end of the season, if it is anything like the 10 matches given to Luis Suarez for a similar offence against Branislav Ivanovic That referee Michael Oliver only offered a second yellow card to Costa for what seemed to be a bite on Barry would suggest that he did not get a full view of the incident.

It was too late for Chelsea to rescue the game after Lukaku's second goal, but Barry also went to a red card minutes later. He had picked up a booking for fouling Costa in the lead-up to the bite and then needlessly felled Cesc Fabregas for the second.

Costa's behaviour will overshadow two excellent goals from Lukaku, who raised the standard of an FA Cup quarter-final drowning in mediocrity with 12 minutes to go. His first was made from nothing, bustling past and out-muscling three Chelsea defenders on his way to goal. His second was perfectly slipped past Thibaut Courtois.

For Chelsea, the worst part of all this is that the manager who decided Lukaku was not up to the standard is now gone, and their lost boy is now showing signs of being the kind of footballer they would once have broken the transfer record to sign. Costa had got himself booked early in the first half, a little harshly, for a stray hand that was flapped into the face of Ramiro Funes Mori. As fingers were wagged and players converged, that was a moment when some Costa-induced chaos might take over, but Oliver gave him a yellow card and that was enough. Costa was a surprise start, given that he had requested to come off in the defeat to Paris St-Germain on Wednesday, which was the end of Chelsea's Champions League lives. Yet strangely, he was back fit to play again at Goodison Park.

Roberto Martinez's team started the stronger. Aaron Lennon was a difficult presence to contain for 20-year-old Brazilian left-back Kenedy, although the Chelsea man never shied away from the task. On the other wing, Ross Barkley barely registered his presence in the first half. Joel Robles, the FA Cup alternative to Tim Howard, made one fine save from Willian's free-kick late in the half. Phil Jagielka was late on Fabregas and picked up a booking on the edge of his own area. There were few chances early on.

Shortly after the break, Ramiro Funes Mori cleared the bar with a header. Gary Cahill did make one fine saving tackle when Barkley broke away on 52 minutes down the right and played in Lukaku, where he was stopped by one of Cahill's trademark lunges.

Not until just before the hour did Costa get his first sight of goal, a move that started with Branislav Ivanovic's pass through the Everton midfield to the feet of Fabregas, who turned and moved it on to Costa. The striker took the ball wide of Robles down into the left pocket of the area and then, as the angle reduced to almost nothing, failed to squeeze the ball between the posts with his left foot.

For the most part, it was two tired teams hoping for an error from their opponent, but Everton belatedly sprung into life. Lukaku's first goal started when he picked the ball up nowhere near goal on the left side and brushed Cesar Azpilicueta off the ball before going past John Obi Mikel and Cahill. His right-foot shot past Courtois was taken with great composure. His second just as good, from Barkley's pass he beat Courtois comfortably from the right side of the area.

Chelsea finished with substitute John Terry and Cahill up front, the captain preferred to Loic Remy as a late attacker. Costa was already in the changing rooms by then.

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