Chelsea's Diego Costa continues to be box office - and the goals keep flowing
Diego Costa's goal-scoring renaissance under new Chelsea manager Antonio Conte has been a pivotal factor in the Blues' unbeaten start to the season.
A brace against Swansea took his tally to four goals in four Premier League games, and the impressive statistics don't stop there.
Costa's spectacular overhead kick at the Liberty Stadium which salvaged a 2-2 draw for Conte's side was the Spain international's 35th goal in 58 matches in the league. Only five players, Ruud Van Nistelrooy (55), Kevin Phillips (52), Fernando Torres (52), Alan Shearer (42) and Andrew Cole (41) boast a better strike rate to 35 goals and, with Costa in prolific form, it will be interesting to see how he measures up in the race to 50 goals.
Since arriving at Stamford Bridge in July 2014, Costa has developed a reputation as an arch pantomime villain, attracting the ire of opposition fans, referees and the FA -- masking the 27-year-old's standing as a truly world-class striker.
Costa was the player that former Blues manager Jose Mourinho identified as the missing link in his bid to win the Premier League two years ago. The £32 million fee was a comparatively modest amount to pay for a player whose 27 goals in 35 appearances in his final season with Atletico Madrid helped power the La Liga side to the title.
Costa was an immediate hit in England, pulverising defences with his swashbuckling, combative style of play -- goals came easily as Chelsea raced away from the pack to win the league at a canter.
Along the way, Costa was lambasted by then-Everton manager Roberto Martinez for ridiculing Seamus Coleman following the defender's own goal in a 6-3 thrashing of the Merseysiders at Goodison Park in August 2014.
Costa's theatrical confrontations with opponents who couldn't handle him soon became the stuff of legend among Blues fans -- and the goals kept coming.
A retrospective three-game ban following a stamping incident involving Liverpool's Emre Can in a League Cup semifinal in January 2015 provided further ammunition for Costa's growing band of critics. It prompted Mourinho to defend his man by saying it was "absolutely accidental" and that he was being unfairly treated by the media.
At that time, Costa advised that "some of the kicks I suffer in England would be punished with a red card in Spain," but his comments drew little sympathy away from Stamford Bridge and his one-man battle continued.
Last season, Mourinho's Chelsea imploded spectacularly. Sections of the support rounded on several players, with Costa among those on receiving end of boos during the home game with Sunderland which followed the sacking of the Portuguese in December 2015.
Understandably perhaps given such a toxic combination of factors, Costa became increasingly linked with a move back to Atletico and the appointment of Conte in April did little to nullify these rumours, which lingered until the transfer window closed.
A striker of Costa's lethal capabilities means there will always be suitors hoping to turn the player's head, but right now Conte has got his striker focussed on the matters at hand -- rippling the opposition net.
Both men share similar traits. A self-evident passion for the game that is undeniably brilliant. Conte's do-or-die animation in the technical area is matched by Costa's on the pitch -- yet away from the high-octane combustible matchday environment both men have a much more relaxed demeanour.
Costa has been fouled more times (15) than any other player in the Premier League this season -- a statistic that perhaps goes some way to explaining the fact yellow cards have become part and parcel of the his own game.
With five bookings leading to an automatic ban, and Costa already on three, the inevitability of a first suspension of the campaign is lurking around the corner.
But so what?
Chelsea's next two opponents in the Premier League, Liverpool and Arsenal, are well-versed in winding Costa up -- but fortunately the striker will have no intention of playing like a shrinking violet to avoid their attentions.
Conte will ask Costa to go out and play his normal game. Not that he needs asking -- he will do that anyway. There will be more fouls, more histrionics, more accusations, more yellow cards and of course always more goals.
It's box office and the Premier League -- and Chelsea -- are blessed to have a player like Costa to keep their respective bandwagons rolling along nicely.
Mark Worrall is one of ESPN FC's Chelsea bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter: @gate17marco