There is arguably no bigger surprise this season than the rise of Atletico Madrid’s Diego Costa. The 25-year-old striker began the season with lofty expectations after Radamel Falcao departed Atletico for Monaco for a 60 million euro fee, and after the club had previously nurtured other top attacking talent like Sergio Aguero and Diego Forlan over the years, Costa was tasked with forging a new era within Atletico's attack.
The striker has delivered on those expectations, and his 25 domestic goals this season are tied for third across Europe’s top five leagues. Further, Costa's proficiency has put Atletico in an unfamiliar position, as the team currently leads La Liga with just seven games left in the season. The club also faces a Champions League quarterfinal matchup against domestic rival Barcelona, and the teams meet again on the final day of the La Liga season. Costa will likely be Atletico's key to success in all of these meetings, as his improved individual form and impact on his teammates has elevated the team to a new level.
However, following Monday's news that he suffered a thigh injury that puts his playing status in doubt for Tuesday’s UCL match versus Barca, Atletico’s Champions League hopes -- and the team’s La Liga ambitions if the injury proves more serious -- could be in serious jeopardy.
Here is a deeper look at how Costa has improved Atletico this season, and why he will have a significant impact on both the La Liga and Champions League races....