By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
Atletico Madrid have done this before. On numerous occasions over the last few decades, the Spanish side have lost a star striker, only to go out and find another fantastic frontman from elsewehere. And after Radamel Falcao left the Vicente Calderon in the summer, Atleti did it again - except this time the player in question was already on their books.
Many wondered how Atletico would cope without the Colombian striker, who hit an incredible 70 goals in his 91 appearances for the Rojiblancos over two seasons and was largely considered the world's finest centre-forward. Yet in his absence, Diego Costa has stepped up to the mark and, on current form, looks like La Liga's best number nine.
Costa wears 19, of course, with the No.9 jersey reserved for summer signing David Villa. And the former Valencia and Barcelona striker has impressed for his new club in what has been a stunning start to the new season for Diego Simeone's side. Atleti's new star, however, is not Villa, but Costa.
|DIEGO COSTA VS FALCAO AT ATLETICO
Costa was on target twice as Atleti beat supposed direct rivals Sevilla 3-1 at the Sanchez Pizjuan on the opening weekend, netted another in the 5-0 win over Rayo Vallecano, started the moves for both goals in the 2-1 success at Real Sociedad, scored again in the 4-2 victory at home to Almeria, bagged another as Atletico overcame Valladolid 2-0, struck both in the hard-fought 2-1 triumph versus Osasuna and produced perhaps his finest display of the season to shoot down Real Madrid in the capital's derby clash at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday night. Eight goals in seven games which have him alongside Barcelona's Lionel Messi in the race for the Pichichi prize awarded to La Liga's top scorer.
"The sky is the limit for Diego Costa," Simeone said recently. "He can still improve, but he has earned it - he is ambitious and intelligent."
Wanted by Liverpool in the summer, Costa chose to stay and cement his status at Atletico, where he has had to work extremely hard to be part of the set-up following spells on loan at Braga, Celta Vigo, Albacete, Rayo and Valladolid. "After such a fight and having overcome so many difficulties to find a space at Atletico, how could I leave?" he reasoned last month. "I thought it was important to keep growing as a colchonero and to stay here for many more years."
The raw teenager who showcased his talents on loan at Celta with a wonder goal against Numancia back in 2008 has now developed into a complete centre-forward. His 20 goals last term doubled his previous best in a single season and he continues to thrive under Simeone as the wholehearted cornerstone of an intense and hard-working unit. "Diego is one of the hearts of this team," the coach claimed after the striker downed Madrid in the derby on Saturday. It was an understatement.
Always playing on the edge, Costa came close to a red card on Saturday as he continued to insult referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz after being shown a yellow card, but the Brazilian has worked hard to improve his temperament as well as his technique, and his committed displays have caught the attention of Spain boss Vicente del Bosque, who is keen to take the striker (who has Spanish nationality) to the World Cup with la Roja (the 24-year-old has played only a few minutes in two friendly games for Brazil so far).
Still suspended in Europe after headbutting Viktoria Plzen's David Limbersky last season, Atletico travel to Porto without their talisman on Tuesday, but the striker will be back against Austria Vienna in the third group game to lead Simeone's side in their pursuit of both the Champions League and La Liga. Radamel who?
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