Armed with Costa, Blues set for fight
Last week's confirmation that Diego Costa had finally signed for Chelsea from Atletico Madrid concluded a transfer that might not have emerged from left field, but has the potential to shape the club's destiny for the forthcoming season.
The switch from the Spanish capital to its counterpart in England has been on the cards for several months. It represents a thoughtful and coherent piece of business by the Blues as they seek to forge a squad capable of winning major honours next season, rather than simply challenging for them.
The Blues' last campaign saw an admirable progression from Champions League hopefuls to a side alive until the penultimate hurdle in both domestic and European competition. That was perfectly acceptable then, but now expectations have risen.
Chelsea's need for a consistent marksman has been evident for the past few years. A Chelsea player hasn't featured anywhere near the top of the scoring charts since Didier Drogba's Golden Boot-winning campaign in 2009-10.
As folklore will tell you, the legendary Ivorian continued to contribute the big goals when it mattered most, right up to his first departure from the club. Meanwhile, the enormous investment in Fernando Torres, designed to safeguard against Drogba's demise, has proven to be wasteful in a spectacular fashion.
In Costa, Chelsea have signed a player that has a sixth sense in finding the net. He might not score rasping drives from 40 yards like Cristiano Ronaldo or voraciously hoard goals in bunches like Lionel Messi, but what he does do is score regularly. Costa ended last season behind only those two in the race for the Pichichi -- the title bestowed on the top scorer in La Liga -- netting 27 times as Atletico pipped traditional heavyweights Barcelona and Real Madrid to the Spanish title.
Last season Costa played 46 times in all competitions for Atletico and Spain, scoring on 35 occasions. While that is an undeniably impressive record, the more illuminating statistics are that he did not score a single hat trick, finding the back of the net in 28 different matches. Erase his last eight matches (most of which were hampered by injury), and his record would read 34 goals across 38 matches, scoring in 27 separate encounters.
That level of consistency is beyond remarkable and a key driver behind Chelsea's pursuit of the forward, although he might not appear as a glitzy player.
Despite those eye-catching numbers, some eyebrows were raised over his disappointing World Cup displays for Spain, but judging his talent by that competition would be thoroughly misleading. For starters, Costa was included despite the end of his domestic season being wrecked by injury. A World Cup is not the stage in which to try to claw your way back to match fitness, especially when the draw has placed you in a pot with Chile and the Netherlands.
If that was not a sufficiently large hurdle, the team that Costa was playing in was clearly in decline, with much of the reliance falling on the same bunch of players that had won their previous three major international tournaments. Whether it was predictability in their play or an understandable lack of hunger from a group of serial winners, their bluff was called, and their strategies were nullified as they crashed out before the knockout stages.
Furthermore, Spain's approach did not play to Costa's strengths. In an attempt to add greater directness to their game, they sought to play the ball early into Costa, eschewing their favoured slow buildup. Such tactics being largely unfamiliar to the team, Costa was frequently left isolated and outnumbered, lacking the sharpness to compensate for the situation.
But if the striker's performances for Spain looked like a square peg forced into a round hole, his role in Jose Mourinho's Chelsea should be a marriage made in heaven. Costa's all-action physical game is a perfect fit for the Portuguese, who likes his centre-forwards to be a constant menace to opposing centre-backs.
Costa's willingness to run the channels and chase lost causes will enable his manager to employ two very different tactical aspects. First, he can act as a release valve, the outlet when the defence is under siege. A ferocious competitor, he will relish pursuing a lofted clearance and holding it up under the close proximity of attendant defenders.
Conversely, his ability to attack and harass the opposition will allow Chelsea to play further up the field and force turnovers deep in enemy territory, keeping up the pressure until the defence is breached. It will also draw defenders deeper, granting more room for the likes of Eden Hazard, Oscar and Cesc Fabregas to exploit, players that will cut a team to ribbons if afforded the time and space to do so.
Along with Costa's physical attributes and eye for the goal, Mourinho also targeted the Brazilian-born striker for his attitude on the field. His former manager Diego Simeone -- the epitome of passion and the will to win -- has always spoken in effusive terms about Costa, labelling him a "warrior" and a "tiger" among a plethora of glowing epithets.
Costa is clearly very strong mentally; one only has to look at his decision to represent Spain at international level despite the World Cup being held in his homeland. He knew what the reaction in Brazil would be and made his decision anyway. He appears to be the type to only grow larger in the face of opprobrium, and that will serve him well in England.
Being unafraid of the most durable of figures -- just rewind to his alpha-male standoff with John Terry in last season's Champions League for evidence -- he will get in the face of opponents and rub them the wrong way. His relentless winning attitude can see him tip the scales of gamesmanship, and it seems more likely than not that he will be deplored by rival fans across the country. But whether you like those antics or not, he is the type of player everybody would want in their team, much like a Dennis Wise or a Terry -- a reviled opponent but a respected teammate.
The 25-year-old has been diplomatic in discussing his new club and new teammates, even speaking about the challenge he faces for a first-team spot with Fernando Torres. The two could not be more different. While Costa doesn't seem to care what anyone thinks of him, Torres seems consumed by his lack of self-confidence. Where Costa goes searching for the ball, Torres can often be found skulking behind the nearest defender. The change in Chelsea's attacking focal point should be seismic.
Factor in the promising link up with Fabregas that is emerging, and it looks like the Blues will have an altogether different dimension at their disposal. Although it is extremely dangerous to read too much into preseason friendlies, the signs were there against Olimpija Ljubljana that the two new guys could prove to be a profitable partnership.
Fabregas showed his eye for a pass throughout and forged an early understanding with Costa's movement. The goal that they conjured was simple yet exquisite, with the striker running onto an inch-perfect through ball from his fellow Spanish international and smashing it unceremoniously into the back of the net.
That moment will have put a huge smile on the face of every Chelsea fan, and now that Drogba has rejoined the club those grins will get even broader. Costa will most frequently be named in the XI, but as a pair, they will physically terrorise defences all over the country. Should Romelu Lukaku return to Stamford Bridge next season, then the Blues will have one of the most imposing forward lines in recent memory.
Chelsea finally have the strike force they so desperately need, it is now time for them to deliver.