Friday 23 February 2018

Mourinho demands protection for under-fire Costa

Chelsea 2-0 Aston Villa

Chelsea's Diego Costa attempts to go around Aston Villa's Brad Guzan
Chelsea's Diego Costa attempts to go around Aston Villa's Brad Guzan

Matt Law

Jose Mourinho would not divulge what Diego Costa's "funny plan" had been in the build-up to the must-win game against Aston Villa, but it was clear that the visitors arrived at Stamford Bridge with a strategy to try to wind up the returning striker.

Micah Richards was the first Villa player to give Costa a shove, Joleon Lescott barged into the back of him and Ashley Westwood was rather less subtle when he aimed a grab in a more sensitive area as the pair grappled on the floor.

Returning from a three-match retrospective ban for throwing an arm at Arsenal's Laurent Koscielny, Costa showed no sign of trying to avoid the battles for which he is so often criticised. But he comfortably took as much as he dished out and shrugged off the shoves, grapples and grabs to lead Chelsea to a much-needed victory.

Costa (27) opened the scoring thanks to a mistake from Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan, and his attempted cross took a big deflection off Alan Hutton to double Chelsea's advantage.

"I'm pleased he didn't react, but I would be even happier if the people who find his hypothetical or real negative moments were honest the other way, and show and show and show (the incidents)," Mourinho said.

Asked whether Costa had to accept that opponents would try to provoke him, the manager said: "He will get that until people point the finger at them and show the images, reshow the images and have the top pundits speaking about it.

"At this moment, he is the bad guy and if you are telling me that this (provocation) happened today and are already saying that in the next matches they will do the same it is something that is easy to understand.

"If it's easy to understand, then show it. What you learn is the big desire for people to find the negative things on Diego. He clearly knows that."

Chelsea officials had been surprised that Costa had been willing to risk his own reputation by admitting he returned to pre-season overweight as a way to try to relieve the pressure on Mourinho after the Southampton defeat.

Ahead of the Villa game, Costa lightened the mood with what Mourinho described as a "funny plan" for his team-mates, although the exact nature of the joke remained very much in-house.

He led by example on the pitch as well, not just with his goal but also in the way he chased, harried and sacrificed himself for his team-mates.

In Costa, Mourinho knows he has a rare beast - a star player who is willing to put himself on the line and the team first.

"Of course we need Diego," Mourinho said. "When we lose him we're a bit in trouble because the team always depends on a striker like him, from a character and personality like him. So when we don't (have him), of course we miss him.

"The character, the personality, the movement, the starting pressure (high) up to stretch the game when the team is under pressure, to ask for the ball in the space, to let the team come out of the pressure zones.

"He has a lot of tactical quality the team needs. Diego isn't a leader in the dressing-room, he doesn't even speak English well, but in the game, the way he plays, the way he gives his body to the cause, it is always punished, is brilliant."

The victory against Villa was Mourinho's 200th in charge of Chelsea and may help to ensure that he is around long enough to significantly add to that number.

Asked if he was proud of winning 200 games as Chelsea manager, Mourinho said: "I didn't know. It's a better record than some pundits, when they were managers or players."

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