It was with great aplomb that Romelu Lukaku took both goals as Everton knocked Chelsea out of this year’s FA Cup, and ended any possibility of silverware making its way to Stamford Bridge this season. A moment of brilliance in which he tangled poor Gary Cahill up before firing past a despairing Thibaut Courtois; followed by a low finish under his Belgian counterpart, saw Lukaku all but seal the headlines for the Sunday newspapers. That is until Diego Costa showed up…
Never far from controversy, Chelsea striker Costa appears to draw conflict from anywhere. For such a talented and potent striker, his short temper and needless actions often land him in trouble – and Saturday evening was no different. Whether it is a kick on the ankles, a shoulder-to-shoulder clash that he takes exception to, or indeed a centre-back getting the better of him, Costa’s fuse is rarely the longest and this is something that opposition players will note going into encounters with the Spanish international.
In this case, it had been just over a minute since Lukaku had secured Everton’s passage into the next round. On the half-way line, Gareth Barry clipped Costa late conceding a free-kick in the process. Almost immediately, Costa sprung from the ground like a greyhound from the traps, and squared up to Barry. Leaning in in an almost romantic embrace, Costa appeared to open his jaw in a biting motion on Barry’s shoulder. Instead of throwing himself to the ground, Barry stood his ground almost driving Costa back with his own sheer size. The episode eventually led to quite a passionate hug from Costa, before he was dismissed by Michael Oliver. In an instant, Romelu had lost the headlines to Diego.
Since Guus Hiddink’s appointment at Chelsea, it had appeared that calmness had been instilled in Costa, which ultimately led to better performances from both him, and Chelsea. For example, last month against Manchester United, Chris Smalling and Daley Blind appeared to rattle Costa with several challenges but rather than provoke anything further, he just got on with his duties leading the Chelsea line, eventually scoring the equaliser in a 1-1 draw. But like a ticking bomb ready to explode, this implemented calmness was bound to give way at some stage.
And so came Saturday evening.
Rather than condemning sports journalists to weeks of column inches on the topic, Gareth Barry confirmed Costa’s innocence on social media with a ‘Diego didn’t bite me’ post on Sunday. Costa and Hiddink must have breathed a sigh of relief after that, as we all remember what punishment a certain Luis Suarez received for his hungry offence a few years ago. But for Costa, relief should not be the only emotion he feels after this. Instead, there must be a feeling of change. For a man who believes that he is being forced out of the English game by the so-called ‘haters’, a move back to Spain would not, in my opinion, have any effect on the manner of the bullish and often childish striker. He is undoubtedly a remarkable goalscorer, like Suarez, but unless he realigns his emotions and actions like the Uruguayan, he will drag the burden of controversy around wherever he goes.
As Hiddink has managed to do in a short-space of time through man-management, a calmer Costa is definitely a more effective Costa, as for one, it would mean he lasts 90 minutes more often. It may have been just another mark on the disappointing report card of Chelsea’s season, but one wonders that had Barry not been a man about the altercation, Costa’s season, and possibly Chelsea career, could have ended prematurely on Saturday evening.