Guus Hiddink, the Chelsea manager, went in to bat for Diego Costa last night, insisting that he was “very proud” of his striker who was labelled a “provocateur” by Paris Saint-Germain coach Laurent Blanc and a “fraud” by PSG’s Twitter account.
Costa has returned to form since Hiddink replaced Jose Mourinho as Chelsea manager at Christmas, but was subject yesterday to what appeared to be a concerted attempt to unsettle him ahead of tonight’s crucial Champions League knock-out tie at Stamford Bridge.
“I cannot guarantee anything from the players,” Hiddink said at his press conference last night, “but he has behaved very well for me. I am very proud of him and the way he is playing, and what he has done. He is not going over the edge but he likes to fight in the real way of the game, and that is what we like. I protect him and support him when he is doing what he has done in my period at Chelsea.”
As part of PSG’s social media build-up yesterday, their @PSG_English Twitter account posted a short Vine video entitled “spot the fraud”, made up of images of superheroes, but with one of Chelsea striker Costa wearing the protective mask he has used since breaking his nose last month.
Later yesterday afternoon, in his press conference at Stamford Bridge, Blanc warned his PSG players that Costa would try to provoke them and that they should resist such attempts.
“There are two facets to Diego Costa: the player and the man,” said Blanc pointedly. “The player I like very much, a centre-forward who can score a lot of goals, has good movement, who works hard for the team. I’m a big fan of the player.
“We also know the man, a man who likes contact, duels, challenges, even provocation at times. That’s part of his game. We saw that last year. He’s a player used to playing like that. He doesn’t just do that against PSG.
“I’ll tell my players not to respond to that. We have to keep cool in the face of provocation, even if they are Brazilians. We cannot respond to provocation, from Diego Costa or anyone else.”
Chelsea defender Gary Cahill said that Costa would be fully motivated, regardless of what the PSG camp said about him. “I’m sure there are plenty of games going round like that,” Cahill said. “Diego Costa against Thiago Silva is a key clash between two world-class players. Everyone knows Diego doesn’t need any more motivation: he’s motivated, he’s a winner, another big player.”
Hiddink, speaking after Cahill, endorsed his centre-back’s answer. “In the future, Gary Cahill can be a very good manager with the way he answered that question,” Hiddink joked.
Costa did not play against Stoke City in Chelsea’s 1-1 draw on Saturday as he had a minor injury and was saved for tonight’s game.
He has scored 10 goals since Hiddink replaced Mourinho and the Dutch manager backed Costa to perform again this evening.
“He had a little bit of a problem at the weekend, which is why he didn’t play,” Hiddink said. “But he was in training today. He has scored recently in the Premier League. He’s frequently scoring since December and January. Let’s see, and hope he can make it on a European level as well.”
Hiddink also backed Eden Hazard to perform better than he did at the Parc des Princes last month, when he was not at his best and was substituted.
“He was just coming back from a rather severe injury which we could not ask him to be top fit, game fit,” Hiddink said. “Now we are some weeks further and he can and must show tomorrow what he is capable of.”
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