Diego Costa: The Problem of Pain


Diego Costa has been on fire. And not in a “wow, he’s pretty good way.” In a record setting, 9 goals in 7 games way. A hat trick against Swansea, a double against Everton, and goals against Arsenal and Aston Villa proved that he could turn up for big and small occasions. But he has one weakness, that consistently is either plaguing him physically or in the media: his hamstring.

Last season, when Costa was helping lead Atletico Madrid to a first place finish in La Liga and a runner up spot in the Champions League, the Spanish/Brazilian striker left on the final day of La Liga, at Barcelona to determine the title, with a hamstring injury. He was so distraught that he cried on the bench, watching his teammates fight for glory. Atleti pulled out an amazing win, and Costa recovered in time to play the first 1o minutes of the Champions League final, the next weekend. Then he was subbed off, in one of the most perplexing managerial decisions of the past decade.

Diego Costa has struggled with a hamstring problem at times this season. Despite that, he has scored an amazing 9 goals in 7 games, showing that he has the ability to push through injures.

Costa was seemingly in danger of missing the World Cup, but sadly for him, he was able to participate in Spain’s failing, horrific campaign. Questions continued to linger about his fitness throughout the summer, even as he completed his £32 million to Chelsea.

But the Spaniard’s roaring start to the campaign put to bed any doubts. Not once in against Burnley, Leicester and Everton did he stutter or seem physically weak. In fact, Costa was dominating and intimidating opponents. He looked like he was in top form, quick and strong.

Coming back from the international break, he looked even better, scoring a hat-trick against Swansea. But, in Chelsea’s first Champions League game, Jose Mourinho dropped him, citing Costa’s “health,” and inability to play three games a week. Didier Drogba started, and although Costa came on later, the lack of attacking potential hurt the Blues, causing a 1-1 draw, at home, against a not in form Schalke.

Since then, every week has seen questions over whether Costa would play or not. Every week, Costa would start, and invariably get a goal, or at the least play a major role. But the lingering issue over Costa’s hamstring will continue to dominate Chelsea’s season, especially in light of the fact that Romelu Lukaku, one of the best young strikers in the world, was allowed to move to Everton.

Loic Remy is Chelsea’s second best option at striker this season. Last campaign, he showed he could compete in England, scoring 14 for Newcastle.

What Are Chelsea’s Other Options?

Jose Mourinho has two strikers on the bench to turn to if Costa is out: Loic Remy, and the aforementioned Drogba.

Remy offers more than Drogba, and should be the number two. He brings pace, youth and ruthlessness. He has Premier League experience as well, having played for QPR and Newcastle. That works well, because Costa could play in big midweek games, be it the Champions League, FA Cup or League Cup, and then Remy, a viable option, could step for a lesser Premier League game.

Remy’s downside is his defense. He isn’t a great defensive player, and that combined with the fact that Chelsea’s defense hasn’t been at the level it was at last season could be fatal for the Blues. Remy also enjoys shooting from the outside, unlike Costa’s poacher role. Remy isn’t a great offside trap breaker, meaning Cesc Fabergas and Oscar couldn’t sit deep as much as they do, again exposing the defense.

On the other hand, Drogba contributes greatly on the defensive side. Although physically he has declined, he is a threat and a great defender on set pieces, and brings experience to situations where Chelsea could be in trouble. He also enjoys running in behind defenses, like Costa.

However, Drogba is blunted. His scoring ability has been greatly weakened, and even getting great passes from Fabergas, Oscar and Eden Hazard won’t help enough. He isn’t what he was when he left Chelsea. He missed several chances against Schalke that three years ago were sure goals for him.

In the end, if Costa is relegated to the bench, then Remy should be the first call. Although he brings a different style of play to the field, the Blues are fluid, and can work around him. This works to the teams advantage, because now the opposition is playing against an almost completely new team, one they have never scouted.

One option that if oft forgot is that of Andre Schurrle playing false nine. Schurrle scored on occasion last season, including a crucial second half hat trick against Fulham. He often drifts inside when he starts on the wing, and is always looking to score. Also, playing him down the middle would hide his defensive shortcomings, which are plenty.

The downside is that Schurrle scores only on occasion. He started in a similar role against Manchester United early last season, and failed to score, as the game at Old Trafford ended 0-0. Playing the false nine shouldn’t be a permanent option for the Blues, but one that could fill in if either Drogba or Remy is injured, and the other tired or suspended.

Chelsea has options outside of Costa; the problem is that they aren’t reliable for the long term. That is where Mourinho’s brilliance starts to become more obvious. Although it might seem silly to sit the hottest striker in important Champions League games, the fact is, these group stage games aren’t that important. Especially considering the fact that Chelsea has the potential to make deep runs into several competitions, games in Feburary, March, April and May are much more important than these.

Resting Costa now is very important. Chelsea should suffer through his hamstring “problems” now, early in the season, rather than in the important spring months. Even if it means drawing a couple of games against Schalke or Man City, losing Costa for an extended period will have a bigger effect on the Blues points total.