Diego Costa’s future at Chelsea has been thrown into doubt in recent months. Romelu Lukaku has been consistently linked with a return to the club while rumours have persisted that Atlético want to bring the Spain international back to the country he represents.
The forward is a controversial figure in English football, both admired and loathed for his eccentricity on the field and his occasionally excessive gamesmanship. A chequered season under Jose Mourinho last campaign cast doubt over whether he has a future in the English game, but his performance against West Ham on Monday went a long way to securing his future under Antonio Conte.
Conte is well known for his high pressure football, and Diego Costa suits it perfectly. Against West Ham his performance was, in a word, tenacious. He regularly dropped in and hounded the West Ham players in possession, forming a key part of Chelsea’s pressing game.
It also helped to keep the area of play compact. It forced West Ham’s defensive line to push forward slightly, making it easier for N’Golo Kanté and Nemanja Matic to dominate the centre of the park.
While Lukaku is not exactly a lazy player, his defensive work rate simply hasn’t measured up to Costa’s in any appearance yet seen.
While it is still very early into Conte’s tenure at Chelsea, early signs suggest that Conte’s strikers will not just ride the line and wait for opportunities to run in behind, but actively seek possession where they can.
Costa regularly dropped deep as stated above, not only to pull in opposition defenders, but also collect the ball from deeper in midfield. From here, the centre forward did two things: he either linked the play by distributing to the wings or to midfielders surging past him; or he turned and ran at the defence himself.
The ex-Atletico man’s movement caused problems for West Ham all game long. He persistently had the beating of James Collins and looked a threat whenever he moved forward with the ball.
While Lukaku is known to be strong with the ball at his feet, his link up play falls short of Costa. His pass completion fell 4% short of Costa’s last season, and that difference will likely continue to grow under Conte given his propensity for strikers to contribute across the field.
The 27-year-old Spaniard had a weak season last campaign, but the entirety of a very talented Chelsea side struggled as well. As such, Costa’s scoring stats plummeted below Lukaku, who continued to perform incredibly well in spite of Everton’s weak showing in the league.
If you compare Lukaku and Costa’s performances in the previous two seasons, however, more relevant comparisons can be drawn. Lukaku has bagged 28 goals in his last 73 Premier League appearances since the start of the 2014/15 season, while Diego Costa has scored 33 in 55 games over the same time period.
They did both have a similar amount of shots per game at around 1.3 on average over that time, as well as a similar number of attacking dribbles, suggesting that it would be possible for the Chelsea manager to further mould Romelu Lukaku into the kind of striker he needs.
To be frank though, even with the ludicrous financial resources Chelsea have at their disposal, it wouldn’t be worth spending the quoted £70 million on Romelu Lukaku, when Diego Costa is arguably a more effective finisher that already fits into the system perfectly.
Lukaku is a fantastic striker and will undoubtedly continue to score goals in the Premier League, but Chelsea have no real need for him while Diego Costa is still at the club.
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