What would a Romelu Lukaku return mean for Diego Costa at Chelsea?
Speculation has been rife over the future of Chelsea’s Diego Costa for some time, and with the arrival of Antonio Conte at Stamford Bridge, the “Guvnor’s” days in West London may be numbered, with a return to former club Atlético Madrid potentially in the pipe-line.
Conte has been coy in his response regarding the Brazilian-born Spaniard’s future at Chelsea so far, and equally so with regards to Chelsea’s rumoured interest in Everton forward Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian was sold to the Toffees by the club back in 2014 and has since gone on to excel on Merseyside.
Lukaku scored 27 goals in 53 appearances across all competitions last season, and Conte may just see the second coming of the former Anderlecht man as just the tonic to get Chelsea back into the heat of the title race, and indeed the Champions League, after a disappointing 2015/16 campaign.
The Mirror’s reckoning is that Chelsea are preparing a mammoth £68 million bid for their former player, a fee which would smash the Blues’ transfer record. However, would the arrival of Lukaku for such a fee spell doom to the prospects of Costa at Chelsea?
Costa’s career at Stamford Bridge started with a bang in 2014/15, scoring 21 goals in 39 appearances across all competitions to help fire José Mourinho’s Chelsea to the Premier League title. Last term, Mourinho’s team stuttered and stalled, and by the time the Portuguese coach was sacked in December, the wheels had come off in Chelsea’s campaign and the reality of a lack of Champions League football this season was a bitter pill to swallow.
In the wake of the chaos at the Bridge, the previously potent Costa struggled for form, and despite making more appearances than in his first season with 44 across all competitions, he managed only 16 goals. This is still a strong return for a player supposedly out of form, thus even with the speculation of a move away, the man who once cost the Blues £32.3 million may still have a lot to offer to his team.
The player certainly doesn’t seem unhappy at the Bridge, though his physical, rough and ready style of play on the pitch coupled with the fact that he has been embroiled in various controversies – including Gabriel’s infamous red card for Arsenal at Stamford Bridge – means that a pressure for a move away from various outlets almost seems to present itself. Although Costa and Lukaku are two very like-minded powerful strikers, there is no reason to believe Conte cannot use them together.
Conte’s reluctance to comment on the future of his forward at least suggests that he must be considering keeping the controversial forward at Stamford Bridge, and were he to remain, Chelsea would have at their disposal not a mere one but two proven goal-scorers, providing that Lukaku arrives. Both forwards have a physical presence in both boxes, and two goal-scoring strikers rather than a mere one would make Chelsea’s attack a terrifying prospect to face.
When either forward is under-performing, the onus is also taken off them by their striker partner in terms of sharing the goal burden, which is important for title-challenging clubs. Lukaku has come a long way since his first Chelsea spell, but having failed once at the club, the presence of another proven goal-getter may provide Conte with much needed assurance.
Eden Hazard can of course chip in from the wing, but Conte will want as much as he can get from his forward line, so may well opt to keep Costa regardless of his temperament. So, although a Lukaku return may not mean Costa will definitely be offloaded in terms of his impact on the field, the restricting factor may in fact prove to be financial.
If Chelsea are to smash their transfer record for Lukaku, they may need to gather funds to cushion the blow from such a significant payout. Thus, if Atléti are willing to pay Chelsea’s asking price, a departure may be sanctioned by Roman Abramovich to see the striker out of the Stamford Bridge exit door.
A Lukaku return for such a fee would make him the main man up top at Stamford Bridge, but that may not be the end for Costa as a partner to share the load and relieve the pressure of being a record signing may be something of serious benefit to the club.
As astute a tactician as Conte is, very much like the Special One, the Italian may also wish to persist with the striker since he may feel he can get the best out of his player and help him rediscover the spark that so often made him one of football’s most feared forwards – a spark which has faded in recent months.
Time will tell as to whether the Belgian forward will arrive, and what exactly that will mean for Diego Costa, but it is certainly not a foregone conclusion that his Chelsea career is fading out, and he may have a big part to play for Antonio Conte yet.
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