It is the first time in several seasons that Spain’s premier competition is being contested by three teams right until the end, and it is making for an intriguing spectacle. In what is a pleasant change from the norm of a two-way battle between Real Madrid and Barcelona, Atletico Madrid have won many admirers this season with their impassioned displays. This weekend’s results have left the race for the title delicately poised as three teams are separated by just four points. Who has the mettle and the skill to overcome the final hurdle and come out on top?
Currently leading the pack are the surprise package of the season, Atletico Madrid. Their manager Diego Simeone has developed an effective play style which allows their key men to flourish. Diego Costa has stolen the limelight for his sheer weight of goals this campaign, but the energy and guile of Koke and Arda Turan in midfield and the ultra-consistent performances of Thibaut Courtouis between the sticks have been just as useful.
Their latest victory did however come at a cost. In the process of sliding in towards goal to force the ball home, Costa rapped his shin against the post and had to leave the pitch on a stretcher. Thankfully for the player and his team’s aspirations, the injury does not seem to be as serious as first feared. Rather than the possible long-term absence resulting from a break, it may well be limited to a severe gash on his shin. Simeone has allayed the worries somewhat by stating that he should regain fitness sooner rather than later, possibly in time for the Champions League first leg against Mourinho’s Chelsea. His return would be a massive boost for all associated with Atleti.
Currently in second position are their bitter rivals Real Madrid. They find themselves 3 points back and ready to pounce at the slightest opportunity. A major concern must be the recent emergence of Cristiano Ronaldo’s injury problems. What manifested itself initially as a minor muscular complaint in his left leg has since transpired to be something much more serious. Now contending with a knee issue, he has not been fit enough to feature in Real’s last 3 fixtures.
Recent press releases have indicated an expectation of a further fortnight on the side-lines, putting his appearance in the Copa del Rey final against Barcelona in serious jeopardy. There are further questions such as how quickly will he regain full fitness and could a rushed comeback aggravate another injury. It is at this most crucial period of the campaign that the world’s most expensive player; Gareth Bale, needs to truly step up to the plate and begin to repay that fee in earnest.
Another adaptation that Carlo Ancelotti may have to make to his line-up is to shift Di Maria away from the central role where he has proved highly effective, onto a flank. By picking up pockets of space, the tricky Argentinian has assisted many a goal in recent weeks, a mantle that may now have to be taken up by Isco. Confined to the bench for the majority of the season, fans have been pining to see him being given a chance and this may be his long-awaited opportunity.
The third horse in this particular race is the juggernaut that is Barcelona. It has been far from a vintage season this year, with Tata Martino’s side knocked out of the Champions League before the semi-final stage and far from convincing in league football. A fall from grace has been steadily growing in momentum and reached its lowest trough at the conclusion of the Neymar transfer debacle. An embargo on transfers is currently in place for two windows and the announcement of this has coincided with a drastic drop in form for the Catalan club.
Defeats in the last 2 months to Real Valladolid and Granada, and a Champions League exit over two legs at the hands of their title rivals Atletico have been costly for their trophy aspirations. Martino’s future is far from secure and he may well lose his job after less than 12 months at the helm. The problems have been relentless all year; first with Messi’s long-standing injury lay-off, followed by the emergence of the Neymar controversy, and now they have lost first choice ‘keeper Victor Valdes for the rest of the season. The effect on dressing room morale must have been substantial and after their most recent loss to Granada on Saturday, full-back Martin Montoya has revealed that the team are mentally “screwed up”. Quite a damning assessment for the Catalan giants.
One thing in Barcelona’s favour is that after their Champions League exit, focus can remain entirely on the league campaign, whereas the Madrid pair still have at least 2 more high pressure matches to contend with. Real face the seemingly unstoppable Bayern Munchen and Atletico have Mourinho’s Chelsea to contend with.
If results go with form in the remaining games of the season; and I expect this to be the case regardless of the problems and issues faced by each team, then the outcome of the championship should come down to the final fixtures. A massive tie will take place at the Camp Nou between Barca and Atletico. It is almost a certainty that Real Madrid will win at home to Espanyol, meaning that a defeat for Atletico at the hands of Barcelona will leave both Madrid clubs on equal points. Real have a significantly better goal difference; constituting to the equivalent of another point.
Should Barcelona and Real both win, the title would return to the Bernabeu. This would be quite a complex situation for Barca fans to contend with; their team’s victory resulting in the title heading to their most bitter of rivals. Due to this possible clouding of commitment and Atletico’s unrelenting effort and team spirit, I believe that they will achieve a positive result at the Camp Nou on that nerve-wracking final day, and bring back the Spanish title to the Vicente Calderon for the first time in 18 years.
What is Diego Costa’s Chelsea legacy after three eventful years in the Premier League?
Diego Costa’s controversial Chelsea career is finally set to come to an end. According to The Guardian, the Blues have agreed to sell the striker back to his former club, Atletico Madrid, for £57 million, subject to agreeing personal terms and passing a medical. Costa scored 59 goals from 120 appearances in all competitions for Chelsea, winning the Premier League title on two occasions as well as the League Cup.
His uncompromising style won him few friends but there was no denying his influence and suitability to England’s top-flight. Costa’s relationship with Antonio Conte turned sour this summer when it emerged the Chelsea manager had told the Brazilian-born forward via text message that he was no longer in his plans. Costa pushed for a return to Atletico and was ostracised by Conte, who will no doubt be relieved this saga is now resolved.
What is Costa’s legacy at Chelsea?
Regardless of the negative reputation he had among the wider public, Costa was loved by the majority of Chelsea supporters and played a huge part in their domestic success during his spell at the club. Due to its competitiveness, the Premier League is notoriously difficult to win, so for the Blues to have done so twice in three years – under two different managers – is a remarkable feat. Costa’s goals were fundamental to this. Put simply, the Blues would not have been crowned champions without him. He netted 20 times in each of their title-winning campaigns and made life miserable for defenders.
Costa never strayed too far from controversy though and occasionally crossed the line of acceptable conduct. Infamously, he received a three-match ban in January 2015 for stamping. But the 28-year-old was always at his best when playing on the edge. Take that out of his game and he would definitely not be the same player. Jose Mourinho understood this compromise, but Conte found it harder to accommodate. With his high-intensity style, the Italian needed to know he could rely on each and every one of his players. Ultimately, he could not trust Costa to follow his instructions.
How will Chelsea fare without him?
Conte is a ruthless character and once he had made it clear that Costa’s days at Stamford Bridge were numbered, there was never a way back. The high-profile capture of Alvaro Morata from Real Madrid was confirmation, if it were needed, that their relationship was irreparable and Conte had moved on. The biggest compliment that can be paid to the Spaniard, though, is that Conte signed a replacement very much in his image. Costa had taken to the Premier League like a duck to water, and Morata has very similar attributes. He too, has started in blistering fashion and looks tailor-made for the English game.
After their opening-day blip against Burnley, Chelsea have rediscovered their best form and are unbeaten in four Premier League games. On that score, it doesn’t appear that they are missing Costa. No player is bigger than the club and Conte had obviously grown tired of the Spain international’s antics, however entertaining they were for us, the viewers. Financially, the Blues have made an enormous profit on Costa, having signed him for £32 million just over three years ago.
Can Costa rebuild his career at Atletico?
Costa’s public desire to rejoin the club at which he won the La Liga title in 2014, highlights the affiliation he has with the club. He is perfectly suited to Diego Simeone’s brand of football and he will relish linking up with Antoine Griezmann. Atletico of course, remain under a transfer embargo, which means Costa will not be eligible to play for them until January. But once he is, it will surprise nobody if he is back on the goalscoring trail straight away.
Could Atletico Madrid striker Nicolas Gaitan make a surprise move to Watford to pave the way for Diego Costa’s return?
This is certainly one of the more surprising stories to surface from transfer deadline day but the Hertfordshire Mercury claim that Watford have been offered Atletico Madrid striker Nicolas Gaitan.
It is understood that the Spanish side are looking to clear room for Diego Costa – who is edging closer to an Atletico return according to the Daily Mail – and as such are ready to off-load Gaitan.
The report continues to say that although the La Liga outfit would rather have an up-front loan fee paid in the region of €2 million (£1.8 million) they are happy to add an option to buy in the deal.
What could the Argentine international bring to Vicarage Road?
It’s fair to say that Watford fans didn’t expect this when they woke up this morning. Nicolas Gaitan has been one of the most consistent goal-scorers across Europe in the past seven seasons, bursting on to the scene at Benfica in 2010 after arriving from Argentine side Boca Juniors.
In a six-year spell, spanning over 250 appearances, the 29-year-old found the net 41 times in all competitions and played a massive part in Benfica winning three consecutive Primeira Liga titles.
Despite beginning his footballing career in Argentina as more of a left-sided midfielder he began to develop into a dangerous player further up the pitch in Portugal, often being utilised in the number ten role just behind the striker, but he could easily fit in wherever Watford boss Marco Silva sees fit.
To attract a team like Atletico Madrid you already know that there’s a little bit of flair to his play, comfortable when driving at a static back-four and using his speed and close ball-control for results.
His excellent sense of vision in and around the final third would be an incredibly underrated asset should he join too, and he could spark a very productive partnership indeed with new man Andre Gray.
And although he played second fiddle to Antoine Griezmann and Fernando Torries for most of last season, scoring three times in just 11 starts in La Liga, there’s little doubt he’d impress at Watford.
The Boot Room’s Verdict (1/5)
The arrival of Gaitan really would send Watford supporters into dream land following the summer business done to date, but this is one of those deals that is dependent on something else happening.
And with Costa’s future well and truly in the air, and time ticking away, it doesn’t seem like there’s enough time remaining before the deadline to see both Chelsea and Watford complete their deals.
As Atletico close in on Diego Costa, will Chelsea’s Antonio Conte rue his decision?
All decisions have consequences, and football managers in particular live or die by the paths that they choose during the course of their job.
So, with the Mirror reporting that Atletico Madrid are closing in on a £30 million deal for Chelsea outcast and former Los Rojiblancos striker Diego Costa, Antonio Conte will be the latest manager to put himself on the line with a seemingly impulsive leadership decision.
After telling the controversial forward that he was no longer part of the club’s plans by text at the end of last season, one of the summer’s most unsavoury transfer sagas could well be coming to a close.
The question is whether Conte will rue his decision in a season in which Chelsea must compete on both domestic and continental fronts, or unify the squad by removing an occasionally unsettling influence from its midst?
Will Conte return home to Madrid?
The deal itself is an unusual one, as while all parties are motivated to complete the transfer there is no guarantee that Atletico will sign their man before the window closes.
Due to the breakdown of the relationship between player and manager and Costa’s decision to remain in his native Brazil until a deal is concluded, Chelsea are determined to drive a hard bargain and the club’s posturing has hindered talks.
Even with a £30 million compromise in the offing, this is a transfer that is likely to run and run until the final moments of the window.
Atletico’s transfer embargo has also complicated any potential deal, but as The Guardian confirmed in pre-season the club can officially agree terms with Costa if Chelsea accept their bid.
The player would then be eligible to represent the club when the embargo is lifted on January, although Atletico would be keen for Costa to play on loan somewhere else in order to maintain his match fitness. This is unlikely to be a deal-breaker, but it could distract Atletico in their attempts to land the Brazilian-born Spanish striker.
Everton may also be ready to provide a solution, with the club short of established strikers and the Independent reporting that manager Ronald Koeman would be willing to secure his services on a short-term loan. This would certainly add another piece to the jigsaw, helping to smooth any complications and help Costa achieve his dream move back to Madrid.
Will Conte Regret his Actions?
The saga surrounding Costa has been bizarre, with the striker deemed surplus to requirements despite scoring 20 league goals in 35 appearances as the Blues secured the title in Conte’s first season as manager. The issue first emerged last January, when Costa was linked to a move to China amid concerns over his fitness and dedication to the club.
Although a deal did not materialise, this seemed to fracture the relationship between the player and his manager, with the Italian famously discarding his striker by text at the end of last season.
While the relationship is almost certainly beyond repair, the question that remains is whether Conte will rue his conduct towards Costa. Deeming an experienced and proven forward surplus to requirements so soon after the season ended appeared reckless at best, particular with the Blues already short of alternative number -nines.
The subsequent signing of Alvaro Morata has done little to assuage the issue, as Chelsea continue to lack a strong and powerful centre-forward who can retain possession and link play.
Morata’s disappointing display during the 2-1 win against Tottenham at Wembley reaffirmed this, as while the Blues secured an impressive win they were constantly subjected to heavy pressure from Spurs due to their inability to retain the ball. Morata was too easily dominated by Tottenham’s powerful centre-halves, and Chelsea would have greatly benefited from Costa’s presence.
This is a trend that could well be repeated during other away games this season, during which the Blues will need to find alternative ways of playing if they are to be successful.
Time will tell for Conte, but Chelsea need options in attack
On a fundamental level, the Blues need further options and number in attack, particularly as they look to compete in both the Premier League and the Champions League this season.
In this respect, discarding a player who is capable of scoring 20 or more goals each season seems detrimental to the team, regardless of how difficult he can be to manage within the group.
Only time will tell whether Conte made an inspired managerial decision by axing Costa, or simply allowed ego and impulse to weaken his squad at a time when Chelsea are looking to build on last years’ success.
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