Pitchside Europe

Costa ominously good for much-improved Chelsea

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Diego Costa (Reuters)

Diego Costa (Reuters)

In the Premier League last season, Chelsea failed to score in eight of those games. Finishing just four points behind Manchester City, it is obvious where their biggest failure was and what their weakness.

With limited strikers and a lack of variety, if not quality, behind them, Chelsea struggled to break down teams that offered little more than resilience, rather than defensive sophistication.

While it is just three games into the new season, on the evidence we have, and the track record of their new signings, there is every indication that lessons have been learned.

The most important thing to do, clearly, was to replace the ineffective Fernando Torres. What once was a loss of form became the the expected level of ability for the Spaniard.

What might have originally been a physical issue after being overused by Rafael Benitez then also became a mental one.

He worked hard over 90 minutes, but appeared to have lost his explosive pace, and with that went his confidence in front of goal.

Torres managed just five goals for Chelsea in the Premier League in his last full season at Stamford Bridge. He might do better at his San Siro retirement home, but only because the quality of defences he will face will be worse.

Diego Costa, however, scored 27 goals in 35 La Liga games, and 36 goals in all competitions. He was frighteningly effective for Atletico Madrid.

Of course, he had some advantage over Chelsea in that Diego Simeone had created a brilliantly direct (and this is still some understatement of how relentlessly good they were) and efficient Atletico side, but a great deal of that brilliance was his own doing.

He was not just a finisher - Simeone had a striker who was also part of a team.

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Diego Costa celebrates against Everton (Reuters)

That was on show again against Everton for Chelsea. Up front, he could be found on both wings, exploited space down channels, and was also a target man for Cesc Fabregas and had enough energy in the final moments to keep up with the substitute John Obi Mikel.

His movement set the tone of Chelsea’s attack, scoring in the very first minute.

It was Cesc Fabregas who set up the first goal for Costa, and he now has five assists in three matches. It was something of a calculated gamble for Mourinho to bring in Fabregas, despite the claims now that it was a straightforward signing.

Barcelona had just endured a miserable season, with the whole side misfiring. He had not quite won over his managers in Spain - demonstrated by Barcelona being slightly tempted to sell him to Manchester United - and had played over 500 games in his career.

A pessimist could read into that the hints of fatigue. And perhaps that was the case, but a move back to the Premier League has not so far exhausted him, rather he has been reinvigorated.

The direct style that made him slightly alien to Barcelona is what has proved vital for Chelsea. With Oscar, Willian and Hazard, they had plenty of what pseudish weirdos would call ‘horizontal’. They needed someone to sometimes take the shortest route to goal.

Fabregas’ vision and passing ability allows them to do that. Against Everton, Fabregas caused the most problems for Everton in the devastating opening few minutes.

The fact that both Fabregas and Costa were both on the verge of instigating stramashes of varying severity against Everton suggests that with what was an oddly, and only relatively, meek Chelsea side last year now also has an edge in defence, midfield and attack.

Obviously, these two signings have not single-handedly transformed the squad. None of last year’s squad were bad players, but they have had their biggest weaknesses addressed. In addition to that caveat, there is another that needs to be remembered - Chelsea haven’t actually played any of their rivals yet. Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool are still to come.

While Chelsea performed adequately in these matches last year, there is scope room for improvement, and bigger tests for the club to come. Should they pass these tests then it could be what proves the difference between the best squad in the league, Manchester City, and the most improved, the one with Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas.

By Alexander Netherton

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