For a manager that possesses something of a Midas touch when it comes to trophies, winning titles in Portugal, England, Italy and Spain, it’s probably safe to say that last season will have hurt Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho more than he let on.
A two-year personal barren spell was glossed over in favour of rhetoric over a transitional side, the title race’s ‘little horse’ that never stood a chance according to the Chelsea boss, but next season’s Chelsea side cannot hide behind a tenuous underdog tag following the signings of Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa.
Arriving from Atletico Madrid for a fee of £32 million, Costa’s Chelsea signing will pit Mourinho’s magic touch against the Blues’ inability to sign a decent striker. The place where strikers go to die, in footballing terms at least, Stamford Bridge has seen Fernando Torres, Andriy Shevchenko and Hernan Crespo arrive amidst a blaze of glory as big money signings before fading away into failure, while Mateja Kezman, Adrian Mutu, Nicolas Anelka, Daniel Sturridge and Romelu Lukaku have all failed.
Whether Costa joins that list or is able to emulate Didier Drogba, perhaps the exception to the striker curse that stretches back pre-Roman Abramovich to the days of Chris Sutton and Pierluigi Casiraghi, could prove to be a large deciding factor in the success of Chelsea this season, but how does he compare with the world’s best lone frontmen on the back of last season?
Compared with Robert Lewandowski, once rumoured to be a Chelsea target before his protracted move to Bayern Munich was finally announced, Gonzalo Higuian – Mourinho’s lone forward in Madrid, Karim Benzema – Real’s current frontman – and Edin Dzeko, arguably the best in the Premier League at the lone frontman role that Mourinho will deploy Costa in, the Spain international comes out fairly well.
He has scored 0.82 goals per 90 minutes last season, giving him a better goals to minutes ratio than any of his rivals. Lewandowski and Benzema both created more chances than Costa last season, but then again they both played for more fluid sides than Atletico that created a higher number of chances per game, so that is largely to be expected.
Costa also managed his goal tally from fewer shots per 90 minutes than any of the other players compared. Chelsea have been critical of their forwards in recent years, but their style of play is hardly in the swashbuckling bracket and Fernando Torres and co have often been feeding off of scraps rather than missing a hatful of chances.
The clinical finishing of Costa will, therefore, be an asset to Chelsea next season given that, despite the new signings, they are unlikely to be that expansive in comparison to other top sides. The Spain international scored with 28.7% of his shots last season, higher than Dzeko (19.3%), Benzema (18.9%), Higuain (23.3%) and Lewandowski (22.2%).
Mourinho’s value on work-rate as much as flair may have irked Eden Hazard, but fits in with Costa, who has made more interceptions per 90 minutes than any of the other strikers in our list and is behind only Dzeko in tackles.
Only Lewandowski has made more take ons per game than Costa – a helpful attribute for a team that will look to their striker to lead counter attacks and stretch play in order to open up space for what looks to be a devastating attacking midfield three.
On the face of it, Costa’s passes per 90 minutes suggest a lack of all-round play, but – again- this comes down to Atletico’s style of play. While he made fewer passes than all bar Higuain, as a percentage of his side’s passes per 90 minutes Costa comes out top, ahead of Dzeko, Lewandowski, Benzema and Higuain.
His aerial duel statistics also look poor on first glance, with just 21% won, but only seven other strikers in La Liga won more aerial duels than Costa last season, who contested 169 aerial challenges.
While fellow big-money signing Torres had to adapt from springing offside traps to contesting headers and holding up the ball upon his move, Costa is moving from a side with a similar style to Chelsea.
The pool of top level lone frontmen is small, but Costa looks to be among the best in Europe at the specific demands of Chelsea’s system. This form comes with caveats – will Costa be able to sustain his form that has largely come in just one season for longer and in a new division? – but for the demands made on Chelsea’s strikers, Costa is a significant upgrade on the current crop and has as good a chance as any of finally lifting the Stamford Bridge forward curse.