What to make of Diego Costa’s performance against the Netherlands last night? It’s difficult really to focus on just one player amid the shambling ruin of Spain’s display. The way the Spanish midfield were unpicked and left for dead by a pacy, counter-attacking Dutch side was so breath-taking and unexpected, it seems almost perverse to concentrate on anything else. But from a Chelsea fan’s point of view, it was perhaps the most important – and worrying aspect.
Chelsea’s probable new acquisition started quite brightly, despite much social media comment to the contrary. In the first 10 minutes, he hesitated in one attempt in the penalty area and allowed the defender to recover, and took a wild shot from a wide and unpromising position. Cue much moaning form Blues fans. But interestingly, he was making intelligent runs, timing them perfectly, and getting into the right areas to score from. He was making a nuisance of himself. All that looked promising.
Then he won a controversial penalty, turning Dutch centre-back Stefan de Vrij inside out with a smart turn and drawing a foul as the defender dived in with a desperate tackle. There was some doubt about how contact had been made, but replays showed clearly that de Vrij’s foot had caught Costa’s as the striker planted his foot on the ground.
It was to be the high point of his – and Spain’s – night. With Spain sitting deep, Costa seemed frustrated, especially as most of their forward play appeared to be being played through David Silva rather than him.
His only notable contribution to the second half was to attempt a headbutt on a Dutch defender in the build-up to a corner. It was little more than a movement of the head towards the opponent, but was still an unforgivable lapse that should have led to a red card. If he tries the same thing in England, he will be sent off and probably banned for dangerous play. As it is, he’ll be lucky to escape without a retrospective ban from FIFA at this tournament.
After an hour, he was taken off and replaced with Torres. At the time, Spain were only 2-1 down but his performance was flagging – possibly as a result of his lack of match fitness, but also perhaps because the Dutch defence had got his measure. Another factor may be that he was suffering from a lack of supply – the Spanish midfield was uncharacteristically poor in the second half, finding their tiki-taka passing game over-run by the fast-moving Dutch.
The only consolation for Costa – and it’s no real consolation for Chelsea fans – is that Torres contrived to have an even worse match. He ran about, working hard, even created a chance for himself (which, naturally, he failed to convert – hesitating just long enough to allow a defender to recover) – and then missed a sitter from about two yards out. It was not a good evening for Chelsea strikers on the whole.
Nor can it have been much fun for Azpilicueta or Fabregas. Not that Azpilicueta was to blame for the disintegration on the midfield in front of him, or the lack of any right-side cover, or Pique and Ramos failing to get to grips with Van Persie and Robben. And by the time Fabregas was brought on, the damage had already been done.
It will be interesting to see whether any reconstruction of the Spanish team benefits any of the Chelsea players – Fabregas in particular. Whether Costa has any further part to play in the tournament may depend upon the mercy of FIFA officials.