Adding an interesting subplot to their Champions League group stage match Wednesday, Chelsea and Atletico have finalized the transfer of Diego Costa from London to Madrid. As things stand, the Spanish-international is eligible to play for Atleti starting January 1st. The deal brings Costa’s tempestuous time in England to a close and looks the right move for all parties. Though unreliable at the end, Chelsea won two league titles behind Costa’s consistent scoring. Now that a quality replacement has been found, the deal makes sense. Atlético have also re-signed a player whose departure left a hole that was never really filled.
Chelsea can’t complain
Costa had been unsettled at the club since January. He fell out with Antonio Conte over a potential transfer to the Chinese Super League during the January window. After the move failed to materialize due to CSL rules limiting foreign players, Costa returned to the club and the starting eleven. However, his relationship with Conte never recovered. Over the summer, Costa made public that Conte informed him via a text exchange that he no longer had a place at the club. With his time in blue over, and in self-imposed exile in Brazil, Chelsea only needed to find a buyer. Seemingly no longer interested in a move to China, Costa preferred a return to his old club. Laborious negotiations, and Atlético’s ongoing transfer ban slowed the move. The clubs eventually agreed a fee of £57m, a tidy £25m more than Chelsea bought him for.
Though it comes to an unfortunate end, Costa’s time at Chelsea was a success. The Spain international netted 52 times in 89 league appearances, leading the team in scoring each of his three seasons. He was immense leading the line in Chelsea’s two most recent title-winning campaigns, scoring 20 goals in each and bringing to the side a physicality and gamesmanship that often unsettled opponents. Costa’s prowess and presence on the field were indispensable for both José Mourinho and Conte in building their teams. His aggressiveness made him no stranger to yellow cards or a retrospective ban, but most often his opponents found themselves the ones undone by his tactics.
Morata more than capable
Chelsea’s business in the summer window shows the club knew Costa’s time was up. They went looking for a quality replacement, focusing first on one of their own former players, Romelu Lukaku, and moving on to Álvaro Morata when Lukaku signed for Manchester United. Morata has made a fast start at the club, scoring six goals in six, including a hat-trick against Stoke City this weekend. The Spaniard possesses many similar qualities to Costa, including a high work-rate, ability to hold up the ball, and opportunistic finishing. The 24-year-old is already an established member of the Spanish national team, with a dozen goals to his credit, and is also no stranger to the big stage, appearing in two Champions League finals. It may be only in intangibles, in the ability to get under opponents’ skin, that Morata trails Costa.
Simeone gets his man
Diego Simeone will relish his reunion with the player about whom he speaks glowingly at every opportunity. Costa spearheaded the attack in the 2013-14 season, which announced Atlético’s arrival on the world stage. He scored 36 goals in all competitions, as the club won the league, breaking the duopoly of Barcelona and Real Madrid, and nearly did the double, only to fall to their crosstown rivals in extra time of the Champions League final. Costa left for Chelsea in the summer, and while his former club continued to impress, they felt his absence keenly.
Atlético made several attempts to replace Costa, signing Mario Mandzukic and Jackson Martínez, both of whom have since left the club, as well as Antoine Griezmann, Kevin Gameiro, and former golden boy Fernando Torres. Only Griezmann has come close to replacing Costa’s goals. But Simeone generally deploys two forwards, and has yet to find the right pairing. Bringing Costa back to partner Griezmann may be the answer. The Frenchman plays most effectively when slightly removed from the main striker, and Costa’s presence could help bring the best out of him.
Costa’s return to Atlético comes at a new and interesting time for the club. Atlético recently moved into a new stadium, the Wanda Metropolitano, and Simeone put an end to rumors about his future by signing a contract extension. While continuity in the side has yielded unprecedented success in past years, this season Simeone has rotated consistently. Where Costa fits into the manager’s overall scheme is one major question ahead of his January debut.
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