Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Diego Costa: The Perfect Striker For Spain

Diego Costa is arguably the world’s most in demand player. His impressive form this season at Atletico Madrid has won him many admirers and amidst rumours of a €32 million buy-out clause in his current contract he has been linked with a move to one of the top clubs in Europe. It’s more than just clubs who want him though, in a World Cup season, the in form striker had the choice of whether he would represent hosts Brazil or holders Spain at the World Cup this summer. Despite being born in Brazil and having played in an international friendly for them Costa made the decision that he would represent Spain, citing the opportunities that the country had given him as the reason for choosing them, although it may have had more to do with Brazil’s treatment of the player.

His decision to represent Spain will have certainly brought a smile to Vincente del Bosque’s face. For several games in during Euro 2012, del Bosque’s Spain side played without a recognised striker, Spain certainly have a midfield which is more than capable of scoring goals but the decision certainly raised more than a few eyebrows. With Costa at his disposal it'd be surprising to see del Bosque use a similar tactic again.

Costa is in a different mould to the strikers that they had in that tournament (Llorente, Negredo and Torres) he is not a target man, he has pace and most importantly he is unbelievably clinical. He is the sort of player Spain have missed up front in recent years, a target man like Negredo, Soldado or Llorente doesn’t suit their free flowing, possession based style of football. Arguably Costa’s biggest rival for the striking position is Fabregas, who has excelled in the false 9 role during Messi’s absence at Barca this season.

In qualification for the World Cup despite finishing top of their group Spain scored just 14 times in 8 games, that kind of record is screaming out for a striker of Costa’s calibre, especially considering the quality of some of their opponents (Belarus, Georgia and Finland). In qualifying Spain’s top scorer with 4 was Pedro, Negredo got 3 and Jordi Alba and Sergio Ramos bagged 2 goals apiece. Hardly the sort of goal scoring pedigree we have come to associate with Spain.  

In his time in charge of Spain del Bosque has favoured a 4-2-3-1 formation, similar to that which is employed at Atletico in the Champions League. In La Liga, Simeone has more often than not partnered Costa with Villa up front, but Costa is more than adept at playing up top on his own.  Whilst not being noted for his aerial ability (winning on average 1.4 aerial duels per game in La Liga) Costa is 1.88m and is strong enough to hold off most defenders and can lead the line well enough on his own. Costa’s lack of aerial prowess isn’t something that should worry Spanish fans, their style of football is hardly route one.

Despite being a big man, Costa is quick, he has the sort of pace that will terrify defenders. The positions he takes up, especially in and around the box show the ability he has to read the game well. Add to that quick feet, bags of technical ability and the strength and heading ability you’d associate with a big man. There are few attributes you’d look for in a top striker that he doesn’t have. He provides more than one dimension in attack and it’s proving very hard for defenders to keep him quiet.

With Falcao departing Atletico Madrid for Monaco during the summer, few would have predicted the Spanish club would be sitting level on points with Barca at the top of La Liga and 3 points ahead of bitter rivals Real. Despite the departure of last season’s leading scorer, Falcao, Atletico didn’t buy a direct replacement, although they did capture the signature of David Villa from Barcelona. The signing of Villa has allowed Costa to move to a more central position and occupy Falcao’s former role.

It’s not just Falcao’s position that he has taken up though, Brazilian born Costa has more than emulated the form of his former teammate. In 18 starts and 1 substitute appearance this season Costa has scored 19 goals and supplied 1 assist, only Ronaldo has scored more La Liga goals. Contrast this was last season, where he scored just 10 goals in 24 appearances (7 sub apps) and the transformation of Costa to one of the world’s leading attacking talents is apparent. You’d expect an increase in the number of goals scored if he’s playing through the middle and there’s also the decrease in assists from last year, but again that’s as a result of now being the main striker and taking the chances as opposed to providing them. This season Costa has been averaging 3.2 shots a game, the most in the Atletico team.

Costa’s goal scoring record this season is considerably better than those who would be considered his rivals for the position in the Spanish team. He’s scored more league goals than Negredo (9), Soldado (5) and Torres (4) put together (18). Scoring over a goal a game is an incredibly impressive feat and one which has put him well ahead of his rivals.

It’s hardly surprising given how lethal Costa has been in front of goal that he has been linked with a move away from Atletico, Arsenal are potential suitors and he would probably fit in well in Wenger’s side. However, given that Atletico are serious contenders to win La Liga for the first time in a long time and are seen by many as the dark horses in the Champions League I can’t see why Costa would risk unsettling himself and disrupting his current form ahead of the World Cup. Also, Costa’s decision to represent Spain and not Brazil was based, partly at least, on the way he has been treated in Spain, I’m not sure he’d want to leave a country that means that much to him.

Costa’s prevalence in front of goal is partly due to the work of Koke. The young midfielder has provided 8 assists so far this season and he too has attracted interest from around Europe. Following the Under 21 European Championships in the summer, Koke was likened to Xavi, and if Costa is playing this well with the midfield maestro’s apprentice, you can imagine he’d excel alongside Xavi. Add to that the considerable talents of Alonso, Fabregas and Iniesta, to name but a few, and it’s hard to see Costa not fitting in well to Spain’s system. These players will provide him with chances and based on his performances this season Costa will take the majority of them.

Atletico’s style is certainly less possession based than that of Barcelona and Spain, Simeone certainly doesn’t think possession is all important and he may have a point based on his team’s current league position. So it’ll be interesting to see whether or not some of Costa’s impetus will be lost by being in a team which dominate the game and not playing on the counter.

His average pass percentage in La Liga this season has been 77.0%, not bad, but hardly at the levels of the Spanish national team. Perhaps worryingly he has provided just 1 assist so far this season, this is an area which someone like Fabregas is stronger than Costa. Spain’s entire game is built around keeping the ball so I wouldn’t put it past del Bosque to play without a recognised striker at some point.  Costa’s lack of international experience could also work against him, but based on his current form Diego Costa would get into almost any international team on the planet.

In recent years Spain’s one potential weakness has been their lack of a striker who would fit in to their system and style of play. In Diego Costa the perfect player seems to have fallen into their laps and presumably on to their team sheet for the foreseeable future.

Statistics from whoscored.com

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