Jose Mourinho spent most of his season publicly and privately castigating his Chelsea forwards and bemoaning the absence of a truly top-class line-leader at Stamford Bridge.
The bumbling trio of Fernando Torres, Samuel Eto’o and Demba Ba wasn’t quite as hopeless as the Portuguese would have us believe, but his ambitions this season were very clearly restricted by a combination of Torres’ profligacy, Eto’o's age, and Ba’s limited suitability to the players around him.
The second incarnation of Mourinho’s Chelsea looks almost complete; Nemanja Matic was added to deep-midfield in January, Cesc Fabregas has now been signed and will presumably take his place alongside the Serbian, and Felipe Luis will imminently also be confirmed as a Chelsea player for next season. Add those new components to the existing parts in South-West London – Cesar Azpilicueta, the returning Thibaut Courtois, the embarrassment of riches at attacking-midfield, and the durable John Terry/Gary Cahill combination at centre-back – and all of a sudden this side looks not just dangerous, but flatly terrifying. They’re powerful, they have gallons of flair, and they’re resilient – forget Liverpool, even Manchester City have work to do if they’re to compete with Chelsea next season.
And even more so if Mourinho can finally capture a forward who suits his structure.
Diego Costa has been linked with Chelsea for as long as most of us can remember, and it seems extremely likely that he’ll be in the Premier League next season. However, Robert Lewandowski’s move to Bayern Munich has clearly impacted Mario Mandzukic’s availability, and the Croat – prompted by a strong performance against Cameroon – is also being mooted as an option. Furthermore, Mandzukic has been linked with Chelsea over the past few weeks.
Cards on the table? He shouldn’t be – or at least he shouldn’t be seen as a superior option to Diego Costa.
The Spaniard – like all of his countrymen – has had a dismal World Cup. He’s looked half-fit, hasn’t really every come close to scoring, and has been jeered by the Brazilian crowds whenever he’s touched the ball. Combine that with the disappointing end to his domestic season, and the temptation must be to doubt whether he’s worth the kind of figures which are routinely quoted for him.
Don’t fall into that trap.
If Jose Mourinho was able to build a forward from the ground up, he would create Diego Costa. Beyond his goalscoring ability, which is indisputable, he’s a perfect-fit for both Chelsea and for English. He’s physical, obviously, but he’s also a very hard-working, blue-collared forward who would suit the core mentality at Stamford Bridge. The front-end of Mourinho’s side may be technically gifted, but they also work tirelessly when not in possession – and so, while Mourinho presumably values Costa’s goal-return, he will also be aware of how well the Spaniard would work as part of his high-pressing system.
The way to think of Costa is as a bully: he’s rough around the edges, fiery, and he loves confrontation. Perfect, because those are attributes which, when blended with a developed technical skill-set, tend to add up to a very successful Premier League player.
Mario Mandzukic is a very capable player, and eighteen goals from 30 Bundesliga games this season should emphasise that. Being a very capable player doesn’t necessarily make him suited to Chelsea, though. Arguably the one area in which he’s superior to Diego Costa is in the air (43.86% aerial-duel success-rate versus Costa’s 21.30% in 13/14), but that’s a department which is less significant to Mourinho. Think about how Chelsea play and think about how many of their attacking phases are built around movement and ground-based possession: they are not an aerial team, and so their need for a Mandzukic-type is actually quite limited.
No, the Croatia intentional is not just a big target man and he is actually a very fine technical player blessed with a good sense of game-awareness, but for Chelsea’s purposes he is inferior in every way to Diego Costa apart from in a single, not overly-relevant area.
Mourinho’s likely preference for Costa has some parallels with the situation at Bayern Munich: If Mandzukic is the complete forward some are assuming him to be, why was Pep Guardiola so insistent on adding Lewandowski to his squad? It’s because the Pole has the more wide-ranging set of attributes and has the game to profit more efficiently from the diverse range of creativity in that Bayern side.
Chelsea have been extremely smart since Financial Fair Play was introduced, and the by-product of their huge transfer revenue this season has been to neuter the restrictions of the legislation and return, for the time-being, to the heavy-spending summers of years gone by.
So with that in mind, paying more for the superior product is a no-brainer. Costa is the choice, and it’s really not even that debatable.