Antonio Conte’s first two games have provided an encouraging start and a very symmetrical record: it’s two games and two wins for Chelsea, two goals scored in each match, and two conceded overall.
And whilst there is change on the Chelsea bench this summer, some things don’t change at Stamford Bridge.
Two games and two goals for Diego Costa proves that English football’s pantomime villain is the same old Costa. Part caricature, part deadly assassin – the perfectly symmetrical striker for the perfectly symmetrical team.
There’s no denying that Costa is far from cuddly. There is a palpable hatred for him amongst plenty of football fans, and not just in England. This is a player who chose to represent Spain over Brazil – on the eve of a Brazilian World Cup – despite having already played twice for the country of his birth. This is a player who is constantly involved in scuffles, off the ball incidents and diving controversies.
Most importantly though, this is a player who scores lots of goals: 34 in 56 Premier League games to be precise.
There is a certain amount of schadenfreude involved in the ritual slaying of Diego Costa’s character. A glee taken in the thought that a man so universally disliked could be on the verge of a red card or a suspension.
All theatre has to have its narrative. Where would panto be without its villains? What would football do without a figure like Costa?
And although he wasn’t at his best last season (who was?), Chelsea fans have discovered something over the past two seasons: when there’s a player like Costa, who stirs up so much trouble, yet never gets sent off, and who creates so much animosity, yet scores so many goals, isn’t it better to have him on your side than not?
So after a summer of will-he-won’t-he transfer stories involving Costa, it looks like he’s going to stay at the club. And that’s great news.
The return of Romelu Lukaku might have added another world class striker to the ranks. Michy Batshuayi, with his goal at the weekend, has picked up where he left off in the French Riviera. But you need to have different types of strikers at the club. You can’t simply play the same way week after week – sometimes you need to break down a solid defence, other times you need to break quickly.
So having Costa around is better than not having him around. And whilst, in a Conte side – where movement and creating space is so important – it might be tempting to look for the kind of pace that Lukaku or the likes of Juan Cuadrado can provide, it makes a lot of sense to have an intelligent player who can create space for others.
Diego Costa worries defenders, he does it with his physicality, he does it with his movement and he does it with his personality, too. But most of all he does it with his ability to find the net. You just can’t let him go or give him space – and yet he finds it himself or makes it for others.
If Costa can hit anywhere near the heights he hit in his first season at Chelsea, then he’ll be a godsend to Conte. He won’t need to go out and spend stupid money on a new player because he’ll have a ready-made one for free already at the club.
There are question marks around his mentality and his attitude, his desire to play for the club. But there aren’t question marks around his ability to score goals.
Antonio Conte, with his passion and his pride, his enthusiasm and intensity, is the perfect man to bring Costa out of his sulk and back to the dangerous striker we know and love. And two goals in the first two Premier League games is an encouraging start.