If you were watching Diego Costa for the first time in your life in a game for Chelsea, suffice to say you’d describe him as a rare breed. He’s infamous to Premier League defenders for his dirty tricks, his unwelcome elbows, and his hurtful (if untranslated) slangs.
He’s the very example of what a striker should be like, rather than what they’ve become. And now, enter Romelu Lukaku.
The beastly Everton forward is physically daunting. He proudly boasts a trick with which it’s inferred that he can beat any defender in the world. He came second in the Premier League golden boot race, outscoring the aforementioned Costa and the likes of Agüero and Sánchez. Why then, are we even talking about whether he would be an ideal replacement for Costa?
Diego Costa, at his core, possesses an instinct of where to be at, and when to be there. He’s first to respond to lose balls in the area. See his goal against Middlesbrough for evidence.
Costa is going towards the ball before the other players even realize it’s up in the air. That game ended with Chelsea winning by that one goal margin.
And that wasn’t the only game when Diego Costa came up big for Chelsea when it wasn’t their day. His goal against West Brom at Stamford Bridge was virtually the only kick the whole team had in that game. His goal to start the comeback at Manchester City was key to maintaining Chelsea’s run of consecutive wins. There were many more moments in this past season when Chelsea were rescued by a never-say-die attitude possessing Diego Costa. (See West Ham, Watford)
And that’s why whoever he’s replaced by needs to have those characteristics. And while Lukaku may have a very impressive resumé in terms of goalscoring, it’s more a matter of when he scores, rather than how many. Fact remains that he has a remarkably poor record against the top six sides of the Premier League, scoring only 4 goals in his last 33 appearances against them.
One more difference between Lukaku and Costa is in hold-up play: a key trait when one is playing as a lone centre-forward in a defense-first type of team, which I can safely label Everton as being when they’re playing against “bigger” opposition.
It’s widely noticeable how often Lukaku loses the ball in this scenario. And while his big performance against City at the start of the 2016/17 season may be a sign of things to come, thing is, it just isn’t good enough even now.
In Diego Costa, Chelsea have a striker that’s a fierce competitor, but more importantly, has proven that he can put in big performances when the team needs it. No matter what his off-the-field antics are, that big-game attribute should be big enough for Antonio Conte to look past it.
But seeing how the Italian isn’t, Chelsea fans can only hope that his £80 million gamble pays off.