Sporting Lisbon vs Chelsea: Diego Costa will START in Champions League tie, but it's a 'risk' says Jose Mourinho

Didier Drogba is missing through injury, meaning Mourinho will take 'risk'

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The Independent Football

Jose Mourinho will play Diego Costa in Chelsea’s Champions League game against Sporting Lisbon despite admitting that it is “a risk”.

Just two weeks ago, the Chelsea manager revealed that Costa could not play too many games in quick succession given his hamstring problems, but the £30m striker, who played 81 minutes (and scored) in Saturday’s victory over Aston Villa, will nevertheless start in the Estádio José Alvalade this evening.

“There is a risk, yes. There is a risk,” Mourinho admitted in his pre-match press conference at the stadium last night. “But he plays. We assume the risk and he plays. So, hopefully, everything goes well and hopefully, from Tuesday to Sunday, he has enough period of time to be back on track again and play against Arsenal.”

Though only time will tell if Mourinho’s gamble pays off and Costa will be able to play his third game in nine days against Arsenal on Sunday, the manager says his immediate priority is for the team to win their game in Lisbon.

“If I can play my best players, and the team I think is the best team to get us the result, I’m not going to make a change,” Mourinho said. “I don’t rest people. I make decisions. I don’t think about Arsenal, I think about Sporting. I’m going to start with the team I think is the best team.” After the Arsenal game, there is an international break but Mourinho does not foresee the Spain national team resting Costa, so the striker will continue to play for Chelsea.

Said Mourinho: “I have the feeling that, next week, [Diego Costa] goes to the national team. I have the feeling that, with the national team, they will have no consideration to the fact he’s in trouble. So, tomorrow, he plays. And, hopefully, he plays Sunday again against Arsenal.”

 

Mourinho had said after Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Schalke on 17 September – in which Costa came off the bench: “Diego Costa is not in condition to play three matches in a week. He has problems when he plays one game, he needs a week to recover and now playing matches Tuesday and Wednesday, he can’t do it. He was not in a condition to do more than he did.”

In recent weeks, Costa had been partially rotating with Loïc Rémy and Didier Drogba: Costa has started all six Premier League games – and scored eight goals – while Drogba started against Schalke in the Champions League and Rémy against Bolton Wanderers in the Capital One Cup.

Drogba, though, has not travelled to Lisbon because of an ankle problem that will keep him out “for a couple of weeks”, said Mourinho, who also admitted in the build-up that Drogba and Remy are still learning how to play in a team that is calibrated towards feeding Costa.

“In this moment, if Diego can play, I play Diego,” Mourinho explained after Saturday’s 3-0 win at Stamford Bridge. “The team had a pre-season with him. The team worked with him a lot of times. He’s playing with us every match in the Premier League. So the team at this moment is more made to play with Diego.”

Drogba did not look up to speed against Schalke while Rémy, who has scored once this season, is still adjusting to the demands of top-level competition. He has not started in the Champions League since April 2012.

“I think Rémy’s learning how to play with us,” Mourino said. “Didier is learning how to play again in a top competitive situation. So I would prefer to play Diego, but clearly I’m so happy with Didier and Rémy – if I have to start with them, no problems.”

This will be an evening of special significance for Mourinho, back in his native Portugal and facing the club for whom he worked as a translator for Bobby Robson over 20 years ago.

“I was all I could be at this club,” Mourinho said last night. “I tried to help the team the best way I could, at the beginning of my career. It’s been a long time since I faced a Portuguese team, and a great joy to return. This will be a match like all others in terms of emotion. If I could choose, ultimately, the outcome of this group, I would place Chelsea No 1 and Sporting No 2.”

Sporting are on their way back after five years out of the Champions League, and Mourinho said that their resurgence is good news for Portuguese football. Sporting finished second in the Portuguese League last year and even though their coach Leonardo Jardim left to manage Monaco they still have a strong side.

“Sporting is a big club,” Mourinho said. “It was in an economic crisis for a while and, because of that, it was out of Champions League for a few years. Now they are back and fighting for the domestic titles and now they are back in the Champions League.

“It’s a very nice club, with a huge population of supporters and a big tradition. Every Portuguese guy – even if he’s not a Sporting supporter – when Sporting during the last decade was in trouble, nobody was happy. Everybody’s happy that Sporting is back.”

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