Diego Costa is arguably the most lethal striker in club football. The 26 year old scored 35 goals last term for Atletico Madrid which prompted Chelsea to pay £32m for his services in the summer.
The Brazilian born- Spanish turned forward has already started justifying his price tag, hitting the back of the net 9 times already for the Blues. Yet Costa’s horrendous form in the International stage continues. He had a miserable World Cup as Spain crashed out in the group stages and has gone on six months without scoring ever since his debut.
On Thursday, Spain lost a qualifier for the first time in eight years, a 2-1 reversal at the hands of a Slovakian outfit boasting the likes of martin Skrtel and Marek Hamsik. Costa remained off colour right throughout the 90 minutes and despite having 4 shots on target, failed to hit the back of the net. The pressure seems to build on the Spaniard, his huge reputation from the club stage going against him. But on Sunday against Luxembourg, he has another chance to get the monkey off his back.
However there are questions which need to answered by Vicente Del Bosque. Does Costa fit into Spain’s system? Against Slovakia, it was only when Paco Alcacer came on the pitch that Spain scored. The Valencia youngster is brilliant at manipulating spaces, running off a defender’s shoulders and making intelligent movements in tight spaces. Costa is a different breed of a centre forward.
Both at Atletcio and Chelsea, Costa has thrived when the team has played to his strenghts. With Koke and Cesc Fabregas feeding him with balls played in space, Costa has the ability to run at defenders with pace before slotting home past the goalkeeper. The case at Spain is different though. Alvaro Negredo, Fernando Llorente, Roberto Soldado and Fernando Torres, to some extent, have been victims of the system employed and its is easy to see why Costa is following suit.
Spain have a history of forwards struggling in the number nine role, barring David Villa, the reason being he was well tuned with the Barcelona side. Del Bosque recently claimed, “The best Spain under has played has been without a centre-forward.” It sums up why Cecs Fabregas has found himself playing in a false nine more often in the national side.
In the World Cup against Australia, Del Bosque opted for two strikers in Villa and Torres up front. Both scored. Both of those goals came from manipulating space, the first, an unmarked Villa finished superbly from Torres’ cutback. The second came when Torres ran in space to finish past the goalkeeper after being fed by Iniesta.
Costa too will shine should Spain revert to a different formation but the question is- Will they? Del Bosque who himself claims that “Costa hasn’t been best for the national team” needs to find a solution. Yet the paradox is he himself.