In selecting world football’s star man for August, it was perhaps inevitable that a Chelsea player would come under consideration.
Jose Mourinho's team have been Europe’s standout performers so far this season, and, after their weekend thriller against Everton, they sit atop the Premier League.
Naturally, the Blues have an advantage in that the EPL began before some of Europe’s other top flights (including Serie A and La Liga), but no one can take anything away from the club’s terrific start to the new campaign.
Before the season kicked off, opinion was divided as to whether Chelsea or Manchester City would claim the Premier League title. Several weeks on, the consensus has shifted firmly behind the Pensioners. Of course, that is partly due to a handful of below-par performances from the champions, but the Blues have looked incredibly dominant and remarkably effective in their performances to date.
Mourinho deserves great praise.
Three of the manager’s major offseason decisions are paying off.
The first is the decision to replace long-standing goalkeeper Petr Cech with youngster Thibaut Courtois. The Belgian is hardly untested, but it was a brave move to sideline an experienced stopper who has been so central to Chelsea’s success over the last few seasons.
Indeed, Courtois, following a series of commanding performances, could have been in line to win this title.
So too Cesc Fabregas.
His move to Stamford Bridge wasn't universally popular across London, understandably, but the Spaniard has slotted back into life in the Premier League as though he had never been away.
It’s easy to forget his relative struggles at Barcelona when one watches how gracefully he controls the play for Chelsea, how easy his touch and how intelligent his movement. Catalonia may not have had a place for him, but West London certainly does, and Fabregas has wasted little time reminding EPL audiences just what a class act he is.
According to WhoScored.com, he currently leads the Premier League assists chart (joint on four with Gylfi Sigurdsson) and has averaged 3.3 key passes per match.
However, while Courtois and Fabregas have certainly impressed, the title of world football star of the month for August 2014 has to go to Diego Costa.
Last season, the Blues’ biggest problem in the Premier League was scoring goals. The defence was watertight, but Fernando Torres, Samuel Eto'o and Demba Ba (all since departed) were rarely convincing and certainly didn't enjoy the confidence of the manager.
As pointed out by Paul Doyle in The Guardian’s season preview for Chelsea, the Blues failed to score in a staggering 21 percent of their Premier League matches last term.
Mourinho’s key task this summer was to recruit a forward who could fire Chelsea to the EPL crown. He turned to Costa, and, so far, the £32 million man has demonstrated that he is the right man to shoulder the Pensioners' scoring burden.
Costa has taken no time at all to show why he was hand-picked by Mourinho to fill the void at the top of the team.
First of all, he has scored goals. Some strikers need time to find their feet in the Premier League. Others appear overburdened by big transfer fees. Others, moving from a different land, a different language, a different league, struggle to settle.
Spain international Roberto Soldado, bought by Tottenham Hotspur for £26 million last summer, has scored six Premier League goals to date (in 29 appearances). Costa, whose goal-scoring exploits in La Liga since 2010 are inferior to Soldado's, has already managed four in his first three Premier League outings.
What Soldado would have given for such a start!
Intriguingly, as noted by Chris Bevan of BBC Sport, it took Didier Drogba 12 matches to score four following his 2004 move from Olympique Marseille.
Already, at this early stage of the season, Diego Costa sits alone at the top of the Premier League scoring charts. Few of those who have watched him would bet against him being there at the season’s end.
Admittedly, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, over in Ligue 1, has scored more (five in three), but the Swede isn’t adjusting and adapting the same way the Spanish international is in the Premier League.
Beyond the goals, Costa has also demonstrated character.
It is evident every time he chases and harries opposition defenders. It was evident in his tussles with James McCarthy, and it was evident in his spat with Seamus Coleman and Tim Howard after Chelsea’s third goal on Saturday.
While Fabregas reached for the ball and wished he was wearing his brown trousers, Costa squared up to the towering United States goalkeeper. He took umbrage at the former Atletico Madrid man's goading of his teammate.
In the words of David Anderson of the Mirror, "Costa looks the complete package for Chelsea—quick, clever, clinical and aggressive. He is a street fighter, with an edge to him."
Jamie Redknapp of the Daily Mail had this to say about the forward's start to life in England:
The Spaniard is an absolute animal and has made a sensational start to his Chelsea career. He charges around like the Tasmanian devil and the Everton defence looked petrified of him at Goodison Park.
Every game he looks like scoring. That’s because he is so hungry and you don’t always see that same drive in every striker.
Jose Mourinho accused some of the Everton players of picking on Costa, but he doesn’t look like the kind of person you can bully! He can be wound up but his spat with Seamus Coleman didn’t bother me in the slightest. He’s a winner and can be a revelation in this league.
The Telegraph’s Si Hughes was another to eulogise the striker's performance following his star turn against Everton:
He delivered a performance that consumed an entire stadium. He linked brilliantly with his team-mates, industriously working the channels. If he was not ceaselessly hunting down opponents, he was winding them up. He managed to involve the crowd, and of course, the match officials. With goals in the first minute and the last, his presence was felt in everything that happened.
After the match, Everton manager Roberto Martinez criticised Costa’s behaviour.
I think there are certain foreign players who, when they come to the Premier League, they need to understand the ethics. It is a completely different culture and the last thing you want to be is disrespectful from a player to another player, even if he is on the opposing team. I am sure he will learn that very quickly. The last thing I would do myself is fall into a trap and be disrespectful that way.
One suspects that Costa will, at best, pay only cursory regard to Martinez’s observations. Chelsea seem to thrive when the world is against them and when the manager can foster a siege mentality at the club. Costa, in the mould of Mourinho before him, has set about asserting himself with little regard for whose toes he treads on in the process (unfortunately for Coleman).
The Blues, like Costa, have an edge, and they aren’t afraid to show it.
No less than Drogba, the classic case of a Mourinho striker, has praised the new man, even going so far as to say that the Spaniard may even be an upgrade over Drogba himself.
The Ivorian, speaking to the Mirror, had the following to say: "Diego Costa has started very well. He looks special. He’s scoring goals and helping the team. He’s settled right in—and he’s started much better than I did!"
Chelsea look the part this season, and their spearhead, the ruthless Costa, has made the perfect start to life in the Premier League. Don’t be surprised to see him take the plaudits regularly over the coming months.
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