It’s all come down to the final game of the season and the man cast in one of the lead roles for Atletico Madrid this season is determined not to miss out.
Diego Costa missed his side’s 1-1 draw with Malaga last weekend – where a win would have seen los Rojiblancos crowned champions for the first time since 1996 – with a muscle injury, but began this week by expressing his intent to be involved against Barcelona on Saturday evening.
And with that winner-takes-all clash now visible on the horizon, the Brazil-born Spain international has been given the all clear by club doctors to lead the line at Camp Nou.
Even if that medical green light hadn’t been received, it had been suggested the robust centre-forward would have been prepared to play anyway and gamble on his fitness for the following weekend’s Champions League final against Real Madrid.
"He knows how important this is to us,” Costa’s colleague Miranda told reporters on Thursday. “He'll be ready to play."
But despite thumping in 27 league goals in his 34 appearances this season, the Chelsea target’s importance to this exceptional Atleti outfit doesn’t start and end with ensuring he puts the ball in the back of the net.
In fact, despite scoring so many already, he’s not actually that clinical.
He has accumulated over 90 shots this season, of which 54 have been on target. However the fact that over 50 percent of his efforts hit worked the keeper or resulted in a goal is slightly deceiving.
On numerous occasions he has wasted one-on-one chances you would expect a £30 million striker to finish – not that anyone has paid that much for his talents (yet) – and his shot accuracy graph reveals the majority of his shots are low, central and, often, easily saved.
After scoring 19 in the first half of the season, he’s managed just eight more in 15 appearances in the second half.
Few will complain about the number which sits next to his name in Spain’s top scorers’ chart, mind.
Aside from nit-picking through what is actually an impressive goal ratio, Costa embodies the character of Diego Simeone’s resilient, strong and winning side and is remains vital in their quest for trophies this season.
In their five previous meetings this season, Barcelona have mustered just two goals against an Atletico side with the best and most consistent defence in the Primera League – and that all starts with Costa up front.
The 25-year-old puts himself about, barging where others may hold back and doesn’t allow defenders the chance to breathe; it is this facet of his game, his desire, his intensity, which Atleti will need if they are to get the point they need to seal the title in Catalunya.
He has been involved in 167 aerial battles this season, although surprisingly has only been successful in 22 per cent of those, and he has clattered, which is invariably the right word, into 44 challenges.
Costa’s presence on Simeone’s team sheet is therefore important because of what he means to the team and what it means to his teammates when he plays.
He might score, he might not; either way, Atleti are much more likely to end a 10 year stretch of dominance at the top of La Liga between Barcelona and Real Madrid with him in their side on Saturday.
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