Debuts Part 1: Diego Costa

RYAN PLANT kicks off the Debuts series with a sweet and sour Atlético reintroduction for the unpredictable Diego Costa

You get the impression that if Diego Costa watched The Thick of It he would admire Malcolm Tucker and think: ‘Yes, I’d happily go for a cerveza with him’. Though, if you looked at him in the wrong way if you happened to see them out and about, you would have already spilled his pint.

He was signed from Atlético Madrid by Chelsea ahead of the 2014/15 season, along with Filipe Luis, after being crowned a La Liga champion, making an instant impact in England as José Mourinho’s team romped to the Premier League title. He had arrived from the Spanish capital with a reputation for pushing his opposition’s buttons as much as possible but he stayed, largely, out of serious trouble.

He took until September, 2015, in a 2-0 win against Arsenal at Stamford Bridge, to truly display his fiery persona to an English crowd: he slapped Laurent Koscielny, before chest-bumping him to the ground, and riled Gabriel so much that the Brazilian defender attempted to kick him, earning himself a red card. It was a job well done as far as Costa – who was not even cautioned – was concerned.

After an eventful season both on, and off, the pitch at Chelsea in 2015/16, Antonio Conte arrived as manager for the following season. The pair blew hot and cold: he came close to joining Tianjin Quanjian in China but he returned to the fore and finished with 20 goals as Chelsea regained the Premier League title.

But, in June of last year, he was told by Conte that he was not in his plans for 2017/18 via text message. He was subject to worldwide interest but he stated that he was only interested in a transfer back to Atlético; in the following September, a move was eventually agreed.

He had to wait until the January transfer window to make his debut because of a transfer ban imposed on Diego Simeone’s Rojiblancos. He made a scoring return against Lleida Esportiu in a 4-0 Copa del Rey win but three days later, on his second La Liga debut against Getafe, we saw the real Diego Costa: a man predictable in his unpredictability.

He almost made an instant impact: he sent a long-range shot just over Damian Martinez’s goal inside the opening few minutes. He then set up Antoine Griezmann – which became a common theme throughout the remainder of the season – but the Frenchman could only shoot narrowly wide.

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Griezmann turned provider for Ángel Correa, who scored after 18 minutes to put Atlético 1-0 ahead. Ángel Rodriguez fluffed a prized opportunity to lob Jan Oblak and Amath Diedhiou also wasted a chance to equalise – Simeone’s Atletico rarely let leads slip, chances for Getafe were few and far between.

Costa was yellow carded on the hour for elbowing Djene Dakonam as Atlético began to regain control of the tie. Then, less than 10 minutes later, he poked home Sime Vrsaljko’s cross to put his side 2-0 ahead. He jumped straight into the arms of the adoring Wanda Metropolitano faithful, chased by Koke and the Croatian right-back, before he, eventually, stepped away still celebrating, fists clenched.

As he returned to the pitch, to his astonishment he was shown a second yellow card for his exuberance by the referee, Munuera Montero; the decision was met by sarcastic applause from Diego Godín.

Atlético managed without Costa: Griezmann played as a lone forward for the last 20 minutes, until Fernando Torres was introduced in injury-time for a late cameo, in the absence of the adopted Spaniard and Correa, who was subbed off for defender Jose Gimenez under the watchful eye of Simeone and his ever-frenzied assistant, German Burgos.

Costa claimed that he was treated like a ‘criminal’ at Chelsea by Conte. Perhaps the emotion of scoring a goal in his first league appearance in eight months, over three and a half years after first leaving Atlético, overcame him – who knows? Hell, he probably does not, either.

Simeone refused to criticise Montero’s decision, acknowledging that rules are rules. But, he did not blame Costa for his actions, either. Simeone is often Atlético’s protagonist; he understood that, sometimes, emotions can take over. He knows that better than anybody: he watched Atlético’s 3-0 Europa League final victory against Marseille at the Groupama Stadium in Lyon from the stands after picking up a touchline ban in the semi-final against Arsenal for his relentless criticism of the officials following Vrasaljko’s seemingly harsh red card.

Costa remained a key figure for Atlético after returning from his suspension; he featured 27 times in all competitions, finishing the club season playing the full 90 minutes against Marseille. Hopefully, for every La Liga defender’s sake, 2018/19 will not be quite so eventful.

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