(Also posted on TalkChelsea.net)
Since January, there has been a clear demise in the performances of Diego Costa. He started the season strong. He worked hard for every ball, kept his temper in check, and bullied defenders across the Premier League. As a result, Costa scored 15 goals from the start of the season to December.
But in the second half of the season, he has managed only four goals. Not only that, his attitude has changed. He is no longer the passionate and aggressive (in all the right ways) striker that Conte encouraged. His positioning is lazy, he falls to ground too easily, and now he is the one being bullied by the opposition’s defence. What’s changed, Diego?
It cannot be a coincidence that his drop in form came after the rumours that circulated in the January transfer window of his generous offer from Chinese super league team, Tianjin Quanjin. Although Conte has never confirmed it, there were reports of an argument between him and the striker, which caused him to be left out of the squad for Chelsea’s game in Leicester.
This may have also been about a disagreement in judging Costa’s injury at the time, but the same outcome remains. Perhaps there has been a breakdown in the relationship between manager and player, and Costa is consciously under-performing to prove a point in a power battle.
This would explain his reluctance to find space or stay onside to make a run into the box – traits that were very common in the first half of the season and should be instinctual for any striker.
Similarly, Costa may be trying to force a move away from Chelsea. He doesn’t want to play for this club anymore. That is horribly unprofessional, if true. Costa will likely be welcome to leave in the summer if he wishes, but for now he should be giving his all to the Blues.
Recently, Costa made clear in an interview with El Larguero that he had tried to force a move to Atletico Madrid last summer, and that Conte “was upset with me and didn’t even look at me”. His lack of goals and chances created since January may also be his way of attracting outside attention to generate interest before the summer transfer window.
With eight games to go in the Premier League, and the FA Cup semi-final to be thinking about, it may be time Conte tries something new. Costa is a regular in the squad – despite Michy Batshuayi’s regular bench appearances, there seems to be no competition for his place.
Maybe the simple fact is that Costa is too comfortable. He doesn’t need to work hard because he knows he won’t be dropped. It is clear that Conte does favour a regular line-up, but the competition between Matic and Fabregas for a place in the starting XI suggests that the manager is open to rotation based on performance.
It is time he does the same for Costa. Batshuayi played exceptionally well in the early FA Cup fixtures he started and there is no reason for him not to have a substantial chance in the Premier League.
The importance of the remaining fixtures this season needs no explanation. Costa has not been reliable enough as of late to ease the minds of fans. Every goal is important. When your striker isn’t scoring nearly as many as is expected, there is something wrong. Hopefully, Conte can also see this.