Football365’s early loser: Diego Costa

Date published: Monday 13th February 2017 12:56

A point apiece was the fair outcome after a hard-fought draw at Turf Moor, and Antonio Conte will have been happy to take it, even if he was ultimately disappointed to let slip Chelsea’s opportunity to extend their lead at the top of the table to 12 points.

Ten points – eight if Manchester City beat Bournemouth tomorrow – allows the Blues reasonable margin for error, but aside from an opening 10 minutes during which Chelsea looked likely to continue the procession they started against Arsenal last week, Burnley appeared as comfortable as they so often do on their own patch.

Sean Dyche has received plenty of praise for the tactical strategy which stifled Chelsea, but it was hardly the most cunning of plans, even if it had not occurred to Arsene Wenger. The hosts, once they overcame a ropey start, settled into a 4-4-2, with Robbie Brady and George Boyd responsible for stopping the leaders’ wing-backs, often forming a back six. Burnley packed the central areas, chasing endlessly to deny Eden Hazard and Pedro the space they were granted by Arsenal last week.

The Blues have come up against this poser plenty of times this season and almost always have come up with the answer. During the second half, though, they never looked like solving the problem, failing to have a single shot on target, and Conte has to ensure this was a one-off.

The Chelsea boss has few worries, but he might be concerned about Diego Costa’s dip. Since it was reported in January that the pair had fallen out, Costa’s influence has waned.

The striker channelled whatever frustration he might have been feeling into a determined display against Hull on his return but he has since gone three Premier League games without scoring for the first time since April/May last year.

At Liverpool, Costa wasted a glorious opportunity to give Chelsea victory from the spot, and against Arsenal last week, he was one of Conte’s more subdued performers in a team display full of vigour and determination.

It was a similar story for Costa at Turf Moor. Burnley grafted to cut off his supply line from Pedro and Hazard, but Chelsea were still allowed 20 crosses. Only two found a blue shirt, while Costa failed to win a single aerial duel in the Burnley box.

Michael Keane was awarded Man of the Match for the job he did on Costa, but on the occasions his team-mates did find their centre-forward, the Spaniard’s touch was off more often than anyone else in Conte’s side. When, as the manager said, long balls became more prominent, Chelsea’s pivot man failed to make anything of them.

Conte covered for Costa, claiming he was left out of the side following their reported row due to a back injury. It may be that Costa is still feeling that; perhaps it isn’t the thought of the riches on offer in China that is preoccupying the forward, maybe he just needs a breather. Chelsea have almost a fortnight until their next Premier League challenge with only the FA Cup trip to Wolves in the meantime, so Costa has plenty of time to recharge before Swansea visit Stamford Bridge.

Whatever it is that is causing Costa’s mini-drought, Conte needs to get his talismanic striker fit and firing if Chelsea are to avoid wasting many more lives.

Ian Watson

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