Martin King explains why Liverpool will do well to keep eye on Diego Costa on Friday evening.
After disposing of champions Leicester City 4-1 in the Premier League last weekend, Liverpool will be in a very positive mood. However, Jürgen Klopp’s men will be quick to put that victory behind them in order to focus on their next match; a Friday night clash against Antonio Conté’s Chelsea.
The Blues have made an unbeaten start to their season and sit second behind Manchester City on the league table with ten points. A lot has gone right under new boss Conté, who has managed to reassemble a squad of fallen giants as well as add a few more noteworthy names, most of whom have so far made a good impact.
However, there is one man from the original group who has made a greater impact and who Liverpool may find it wise to keep a careful eye on this Friday.
Indeed, Diego Costa has returned to his dangerous best, with four goals in Chelsea’s first four games of the Premier League season – making him joint top-scorer alongside Man United’s Zlatan Ibrahimovič and West Ham’s Michail Antonio.
The striker experienced a poor campaign on all fronts last year and was heavily linked with a move back to Spanish La Liga club Atletico Madrid during the summer. However, Costa seems to have put that behind him as he looks determined to lead Chelsea back to glory this season.
The Spaniard’s main attributes are his strength, athleticism and good finishing ability. Although, preparing for that alone may not be enough for Liverpool as Costa always carries an extra (and rather unwanted) attribute in his controversial behavior.
Chelsea’s first two league matches of the season saw them record successive 2-1 wins over West Ham and Watford. Both victories came following incidents where Costa should almost certainly have been dismissed for second bookable offences.
After receiving a yellow card for dissent against West Ham, a studs-up challenge on goalkeeper Adrian somehow escaped punishment. Against Watford, the striker was again yellow-carded for dissent, however, when he performed a dive into the Hornets’ penalty area in an attempt to win a penalty, he was not punished for clear simulation.
The very same incident happened again in Chelsea’s most recent match against Swansea City, where after being booked for a reckless challenge, another case of simulation saw Costa go unpunished by the referee.
Liverpool too, aren’t entirely unfamiliar with Costa’s antics. The striker left Reds fans shocked and fuming when he clearly stomped midfielder Emre Can’s leg, in the Blues’ League Cup semi-final match against the Merseysiders in January 2015 – an occasion that also saw Costa clash with several Reds players, including Martin Škrtel and Steven Gerrard.
Once again, the former Atletico Madrid man went unpunished and was bizarrely defended by then manager José Mourinho after the game.
Heading into this latest clash at Stamford Bridge, Klopp’s men will have to be wary of both Costa’s football and behavioural threat as the striker will surely be looking to influence the scoreline positively while getting away with punishable offences against the Reds.
As if that is not enough, the central defensive pairing that the manager chooses on the night will have to show plenty of mental composure, as Costa has a history of provoking his opposite numbers, which has resulted in them losing their heads and easily getting sent off – Arsenal’s Gabriel is a perfect example of this.
Liverpool must be careful not to focus all their attention on the former Brazil international, though, as Chelsea have too many goal-threats in their side for them to do that.
However, Klopp’s men would likely increase their chances of victory at the Bridge if they approached the challenge of Costa with that extra bit of caution.
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