By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
Jose Mourinho wasn't happy. The Portuguese hit out at the match officials after his 77-match unbeaten league run at home came to an end with a surprise defeat against Sunderland on Saturday. But instead of a favourable referee, what Chelsea needed more than anything was a world-class striker.
That's nothing new. Mourinho has complained all season about his forwards and if this term ends with narrow failure in the Premier League and the Champions League (just as the season started with defeat on penalties in the Uefa Super Cup back in August), it will be because of the Blues' failings in front of goal.
Top-class centre-forwards aren't easy to come by, however, and that was one position Mourinho was never able to strengthen sufficiently at Real Madrid. Back for a second spell at Stamford Bridge, he is loathe to make the same mistake.
So disillusioned with his strikers has Mourinho been of late that he has even picked winger Andre Schurrle as a false nine on several occasions - most notably in the Champions League quarter-final first leg at Paris Saint-Germain. "‘With Andre at least I know we have one more player to have the ball, one more player to associate with the other players, even though he’s not a striker," the Portuguese said after the 3-1 loss, adding: "But football is not just about that. It’s also about scoring goals, getting behind, and that is for strikers. Real strikers. And I had to try [something different]."
It wasn't the first time he had moaned about his misfiring forwards, but former Chelsea midfielder Michael Ballack backed up Mourinho's hypothesis. "A team like Chelsea needs a world-class player in that position," the German said recently.
Diego Costa at Atletico
|3||The striker has won three trophies at Atleti but was on loan as Simeone's side claimed the Europa League.|
|14||The Brazil-born forward has 14 assists in 129 games, but only four in 46 so far this season|
|28||Costa has received 28 yellow cards and two reds in his three seasons at the Vicente Calderon.|
|35||His goals so far in 2013-14, from 46 games, and with at least six fixtures still remaining.|
|63||Total goals in 129 games for Atleti, although his strike rate is improving with every season.|
Mourinho knows all about the Brazil-born forward, who helped mastermind Atletico's Copa del Rey final win over Real at the Bernabeu last season and has stepped up with 35 strikes so far this term.
"It's normal that Chelsea are interested in him," Atleti coach Diego Simeone said last week. "They are an economic power. If Costa decides to go, it will be OK with me."
Talks are at an advanced stage and the Londoners are closing in on a €42.5 million deal for the forward, who has chosen to represent Spain in the forthcoming World Cup in Brazil.
So is Costa the right man to banish the Blues' striker struggles next season?
Out on loan at Rayo Vallecano in Simeone's first season at the Vicente Calderon, Costa's remarkable rise saw him emerge first as a useful partner for Falcao last term and then this season step in as a ready-made replacement for the Colombian.
With four fixtures left in La Liga and at least two in the Champions League, Costa has already equalled the best-ever returns in a single season of two previous Atleti greats: Diego Forlan and Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink. More significantly, perhaps, he has proved the team's talisman in their remarkable run of form in both La Liga and the Champions League.
The former Valladolid forward thrives in Simeone's system as the focal point of a counterattacking side and would need to adapt his game at Chelsea, particulary for the home matches, but he has all the attributes to succeed.
Costa is much more than just a predator. Always a threat in the air, he is dangerous in the box and from distance as well, while he also boasts excellent technical ability that should see him link up effectively with the likes of Oscar and Eden Hazard. He holds the ball up well too and leads the line with pace and power - a valuable attribute away from home.
Perhaps his greatest quality, however, is his insatiable desire to compete and to win; and in that respect he has become the image of Simeone on the pitch for Atleti.
Mourinho admired those qualities in Drogba and with Costa, he would be getting something similar.
“He is a brilliant striker," Jamie Redknapp said recently. "He’s got that pace and is almost Drogba-like with his ability to run beyond people. He has a left foot, he can drive and he can score his own goals."
The former England midfielder was correct in that comparison, yet it's also Costa's competitive edge and extreme desire, as well as his formidable physique, which will allow him to shine just like Drogba did for all those years under Mourinho and even without him.
Indeed, it's often said that Drogba was the archetypal Mourinho forward and that is probably still true. But now, Chelsea hope Diego Costa can be the next one.
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