Monday’s edition of Marca highlighted an issue which is developing into a potentially season-defining one in La Liga. Title hopefuls Atletico Madrid lie just one point from the league’s summit but have scored eight goals fewer than second-placed Sevilla and a whopping 18 fewer than league leaders Barcelona.
Perhaps the greatest issue lies with Diego Costa, who returned to the club a year ago, who has not found the back of the net in La Liga since February. It is a run of 18 league games of which nine have come this season, meaning that there is a real lack of a cutting edge with Atleti.
The graphic in the Madrid-based newspaper shows that the entire attack of Los Rojiblancos have mustered just three goals between them, with Antoine Griezmann responsible for all. The graphic is slightly disingenuous – Angel Correa has scored twice, while youngster Borja Garces has also netted – but the underlying point is undeniable.
Five seasons ago, when Diego Simeone’s side won the title, their attack had contributed 19 goals by this same point of the season with Costa netting 13 of those. Of course, the Brazilian-born striker is not solely responsible for the troubles – summer signing Nikola Kalinic has not scored in seven appearances while Gelson Martins is also without a league goal – but it is the most damning.
In three seasons at Chelsea, Costa hit 59 goals across all competitions while his final season of Atleti saw him strike an impressive 36 times. It hints at a marked decline for a striker who has now celebrated his 30th birthday and could possibly be in the autumn of his career. There have been suggestions he is not happy at his wage disparity in relation to strike partner Antoine Griezmann, but surely he cannot complain based on the chasm in performance level between the two.
Simeone has experimented with several strikers since Costa was sold in 2014: Raul Jimenez, Jackson Martinez, Mario Mandzukic, Luciano Vietto, Kevin Gameiro and Fernando Torres among them, but none have been anywhere close to being categorised as a success. When Costa was signed a year ago for a club record fee, it was widely acknowledged that this was one key problem which would be solved.
He made a bright start, netting on his league debut against Getafe and twice more in his next five La Liga games and two Copa games, including against Sevilla, in January. There have been bright spots in Europe – netting the decisive Europa League semi-final goal against Arsenal before striking twice against Real Madrid in the European Super Cup this August. But unless Costa turns a corner in La Liga, Atleti may well spurn their greatest opportunity of a league title since 2014.
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