Jose Mourinho can’t afford to leave Diego Costa out of the Chelsea side, but taking a risk to bring him back into the team early could eventually derail their season.
Despite numerous commentators and experts claiming that Chelsea had ‘won’ the summer transfer window, most often attributed to them doing their business early in the summer, they already look fragile after only a single injury.
Diego Costa was purchased from Atletico Madrid in a £32million deal that was being touted as done before the close of last season and early signs have suggested that Mourinho had got himself a gem from the Spanish champions.
Hit the ground running
The Brazil-born striker barely needed any time to bed in with his new surroundings and has already fired four goals in only three Premier League matches.
However, he complained of pain and discomfort in his hamstring during La Roja’s friendly defeat to France and has since been sent back to Chelsea after being ruled out of the reigning champions’ opening Euro 2016 qualifier with Macedonia.
Most recent reports suggest that the Blues are hopeful that the 25-year-old will be available for the visit of Swansea City on Saturday in what is a top of the table clash – both teams having won all three of their opening Premier League fixtures.
Despite all the plaudits being thrown their way for their dealings in the market this summer, Chelsea look as though they cannot do without Costa in the team and lose far too much up front without him there.
Mourinho offloaded the ineffectual Fernando Torres to AC Milan before the window closed on a two-year loan and replaced him with QPR striker Loic Remy, while Romelu Lukaku and Samuel Eto’o were shipped out permanently and Didier Drogba was granted a return to the club where he is a legend.
Mourinho’s alternatives to Costa are not exactly the world class competition you expect to see at one of the biggest club sides in the world.
Remy is a lively a forward, he can play wide or through the centre, he gets goals and has been in good form, when fit, over the past season. There are questions, however, over whether he is capable of leading the line for a club the size of Chelsea.
Drogba will always be welcome at Stamford Bridge, his Champions League final heroics made history and secured his legacy as a club legend, but anyone expecting anything like his previous best is seriously deluding himself or herself.
Such is the Ivorian’s size and presence, he will always cause problems for defenders but there isn’t anything like the pace he once possessed and two years in China and Turkey have left the 36-year-old looking like a veteran striker edging towards international retirement.
Costa’s hard running, strength on the ball and tidy link-up play have been the perfect foil for the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Eden Hazard and Andre Schürrle so far in the Premier League, but the effectiveness of his selflessness is underpinned by a physical verve few in the league can match.
Chelsea just do not look as though they can play the same way without him – a style that already has some predicting them to cruise to the Premier League title.
It is this need that has left Mourinho with a difficult decision to make with regards to selection. The former Real Madrid boss will know his side’s attacking prowess is degraded without Costa, but risking him could lead to more serious longer-term problems.
Another point that has come from his early season form is that critics who predicted he would not be an effective force in the Premier League and that he would struggle to live up to his £32million price tag have gone quiet.
There is something in these predictions though; in the latter stages of last season Costa was struggling with a niggling hamstring injury and Atletico boss Diego Simeone accepted the risk in playing him – Atleti’s need of him was arguably even greater than Chelsea’s.
While he still worked hard for the team, Costa looked sluggish and ineffectual in many matches, culminating in him being substituted only a few minutes into the Champions League final.
This malaise continued into Spain’s defence of their World Cup title, and few will need reminding of what happened to La Roja in Brazil. Costa was slow, he struggled to make any impact and looked nothing like the player that has been stretching Premier League defences with his intelligent and tireless running.
Dilemma for Jose
One the one hand, Mourinho will know that keeping the momentum going from three good victories inn the opening three matches is important, but risking Costa for that could to long-term pain for his trophy hopes – quite literally for the player.
Rather than being lauded for doing his business early, it would not be unfair to question Mourinho as to why he has got himself into the position of being so reliable on one player.