GiveMeSport live from Stamford Bridge
Chelsea’s progression to the Capital One Cup final at Liverpool’s expense arrived only after two hours of breathless football at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday night, a veritable whirlwind of a match that was impossible to ignore even for a few seconds.
Both sides played with the kind of energy and endeavour that makes English football and in particular English cup ties so special, so it’s all the more disappointing that its a predator with a penchant for pushing what’s acceptable when it comes to the search for success that will now dominate headlines up and down the country.
Diego Costa is of course the player in question, a man who is often dubbed a ‘street fighter’ in the same vein as Luis Suarez. What utter nonsense, he’s not a Super Nintendo character getting ready to do battle with Blanka, Ryu and co.
Temper always threatens to flare up
The Brazilian-born forward is a tremendous front man and finisher, but within his considerable frame contains the mould of a character who could start a fight in a phone booth with the most minor provocation.
Costa resembles a wrestler at times with his conduct on the pitch, both in the Greco-roman and WWE sense. The £32m man draws new levels of energy from provocation and feeds off raw emotion, which perhaps may explain why he decided to stamp on Liverpool’s experimental full-back Emre Can just 11 minutes into the match.
Stamp was deliberate, despite claims to the contrary
With fourth official Phil Dowd just a few feet away Costa made the snap decision to plant his studs in Can’s leg, of that I have no doubt. The coy, clever look in the other direction should not fool anyone, we are talking about a top operator who knows exactly what it takes to play as a lone striker at the very highest level.
Referee Michael Oliver also missed what was nothing less than a malicious move, although if like myself you were at Stamford Bridge his oversight will come as absolutely no surprise.
Oliver also failed to award Costa a penalty kick midway through the first half after the forward was felled by a now familiar foe in Liverpool defender Martin Srktel, but I’ll defend the under-fire official and agree with that controversial call.
Penalty call remains open to debate
Clear contact from his marker saw Costa go to ground, although this is where Mourinho’s new main man must live and die by the sword. Karma may just have crept up with our chief protagonist on this occasion.
Skrtel’s movement can be seen a mile away and Costa attempts to maximise the eventual leg-lock to his advantage, a perfectly understandable but ultimately dubious part of his make-up in this awesome Chelsea side.
Beyond the fact Costa has moved his own right leg into an unnatural position there’s the ridiculous over-reaction to deal with. Sheer anguish fills every pore of the 26-year-old’s distinctive facial features from the slightest Srktel graze.
Chelsea fans will no doubt cry foul and insist Skrtel altered his run without getting a touch on the ball. To a degree they are right and yes more often that not that’s enough to win a spot kick, but we already seem to be well down a dark path that turns the game we love into a non-contact sport.
'Contact' is a word used too freely
Costa is not the first to blur the lines between what should be acceptable on a football pitch in this respect and certainly won’t be the last, particularly while me maintain the notion that his particular brand of bully boy tactics is fair game so long as he’s on your team.
That’s the classic line when it comes to Costa, vilified by 19 sets of Premier League fans who would all secretly jump at the chance to make him their new strike star in a heartbeat.
Mourinho quick to defend his star man
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho summed that stance up with an impassioned defence of Costa’s actions in his post-match press conference.
Mourinho insisted his stamp on Can and a later similar moment with Srktel were both “absolutely accidental” before launching into a furious tirade against an ‘unnamed’ Sky pundit who apparently continues to throw Costa under the bus.
He began: “I don’t know what you understand by a stamp. Maybe you are already influenced by the campaign on the television with the certain pundits saying that Costa has crimes - they must be nuts, the guy who says that.
“Sky calls it a crime. I have to say that he goes to the ball, he chases it, the opponent goes to the floor and he puts his foot there when he is looking at the ball.
“It is a great campaign. We know how much that pundit loves Chelsea. So you are sitting there, you are very well paid and you are a manager putting their ass on the bench.”
Redknapp put under the microscope
Jamie Redknapp is the man those comments are aimed at, the perfect pawn in Mourinho’s ongoing game of siege mentality 101.
We’ve seen these diversionary tactics before from Mourinho and countless other managers, an attempt to build an ‘us against the world’ mentality to harness fighting spirit.
Mourinho has that important quality in spades and as we’ve seen for both Chelsea and Atletico Madrid over the last 18 months so does Costa. The duo are kindred spirits, skilled schemers of skulduggery in their respective fields.
The 52-year-old proved that with his touchline manner in last night's 1-0 win, so livid that Lucas Leiva was somehow not sent off for tripping Oscar he was too busy berating fourth Dowd to even watch the winning goal.
Mourinho was talking to, no shouting at Dowd as Branislav Ivanovic headed home from close range, maintaining a fiery demeanour driven by a sense of injustice almost unbroken for the better part of two hours.
Just shy of six months into their stellar arrangement and the pair are already preparing for their first Wembley final together, which means that the bad will always be outweighed by the good when it comes to Costa in Mourinho’s eyes to a certain extent.