Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

COMMENT: Liverpool are desperately missing Luis Suarez

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Liverpool know only too well the value Diego Costa brings to a team. That’s why they submitted a £21.85million bid to Atletico Madrid to trigger a release clause in his contract and make him the third most expensive player in their history in August 2013. When the deal did not happen there was a belief – never substantiated – that Jose Mourinho had encouraged Jorge Mendes, the agent he and Costa share, to help cool it, because he had designs on taking the striker to Chelsea.

Costa and Luis Suarez in the same Liverpool team. What a prospect that would have been. Too much of a bad thing, some might say. But the reason why Liverpool pursued him those two summers ago was the same reason why Brendan Rodgers’ criticism of Costa was so temperate late on Tuesday night. The manager knows that Liverpool need some of what Costa gives a team. The South American Spanish term for it is picardia – the sort of spice you use to steal an advantage, which is mixed up with the quality of garra – fighting spirit. The Brazilians call it jeitinho – accomplishing goals by flying in the face of social convention. Stretching the boundaries of cheating, by any other name.

No one is pretending that what we saw Costa do in the course of Chelsea’s 1-0 Capital One Cup win at Stamford Bridge – stamp on two players – was anything approaching justifiable. But to have witnessed what else he delivered in Tuesday’s semi-final – agitating, distracting and bothering opponents; creating the kind of destabilising effect in the opposition defence that most teams would need two strikers to accomplish – made you recall the aspect of Suarez’s game which is almost irreplaceable, now he has left Anfield.

Costa-Gerrard.jpg

There was plenty of good in what Liverpool delivered in the semi-final. They demonstrated in the two games against Chelsea something they were incapable of at their highest point last season: defensive steel and an ability to close the door on opponents. Lucas Leiva is one of the most important players in the Liverpool team, now. Rodgers has always been willing to turn back to players he seemed to have given up on. He is not a proud man in that sense.

The relocation of Raheem Sterling to the top of the strike force is allowing Liverpool to stretch the game as they did last season and bring out the best in Philippe Coutinho by creating space for him. Rarely can a team have taken as much encouragement out of a semi-final defeat.

suarez-2.jpg
Suarez fired Liverpool into the Champions League last season

Yet, for all that, Rodgers has been done by Mourinho once again – no victories in their seven encounters now – and important components are missing. A capacity to score is the most elementary. Daniel Sturridge’s return – possibly to the bench at home to West Ham United on Saturday – will help but he is not a panacea for their attacking ills. Others must begin to deliver goals. Jordan Henderson has only 13 in 123 appearances – not enough – and, though Coutinho’s strike rate of 10 in 65 is better, he has only two this season. Mario Balotelli is a write-off, incapable from the minute he entered the game at Stamford Bridge of causing the type of preoccupying threat that Costa did. It is very surprising that Rodgers is intent on keeping him until June.

But having seen Chelsea do what they do, it is also hard to avoid the sense that this team also need one of the London side’s less desirable components: a little more devilry. The development of Henderson has been gratifying to see but is he actually cut out to be Steven Gerrard’s successor – snapping into tackles in a way which puts the fear of God into the opposition? The sense that Liverpool are a little too nice has been pervasive ever since Rodgers took over in 2012 and it is more discernible than ever now that Suarez has gone.

So, Liverpool will curse Costa, as Emre Can and Martin Skrtel rub their bruises. But they will also tell you that some of what that player brings is good for the soul. Mourinho certainly knows that. It is why Liverpool’s entreaties to Atletico Madrid fell on fallow ground, leaving the coast clear last summer for Chelsea to take him for a steal at £32m.

Comments