Ranking the Best Replacement Strikers for Chelsea's Diego Costa

Garry Hayes@@garryhayesFeatured ColumnistJanuary 17, 2017

Ranking the Best Replacement Strikers for Chelsea's Diego Costa

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    How do you replace one of the world's best strikers?

    That's the question Chelsea are asking themselves now after a recent training-ground bust-up between manager Antonio Conte and Diego Costa over the front man's fitness.

    Per Matt Law of the Telegraph, it's resulted in Costa pushing for a mega-money move to the Chinese Super League.

    That may not happen in January as Chelsea attempt to finish the season as Premier League champions. But come the summer, the feeling is that it's a move that may well happen.

    Should that be the case, it'll give Chelsea and Conte more time to find a replacement for their leading goalscorer, planning for the future without the Spain international leading the line.

    The Blues are expected to earn anything as high as £80 million for Costa's transfer, which will arm them with a significant war chest to chase some of Europe's finest talent.

    But where do they start? In an attempt to answer that, Bleacher Report ranks the potential candidates who could replace Costa at Stamford Bridge.

5. Michy Batshuayi

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    For starters, Chelsea don't necessarily have to dip their toe into the transfer market to find Costa's replacement. The jury is still out on Michy Batshuayi, but the Blues may well have a ready-made alternative should the former Atletico Madrid man depart in the summer.

    Batshuayi has underwhelmed in the early part of his Chelsea career. He hasn't played as much as we thought he would, and on the few occasions Costa has been missing, Conte has preferred Eden Hazard as makeshift striker. There doesn't seem to be a lot of trust in the young Belgian yet.

    In the here and now, Batshuayi doesn't look ready. But in eight months' time when the 2017/18 season kicks off, there's every reason to expect he will be.

    Conte is a manager who thrives on developing players. We saw him do it at Juventus—notably with a young Paul Pogba—and with the Italy national team he also improved many of those he worked with.

    After a year under Conte's watchful eye, Batshuayi will be a better player. He will be a mature player and potentially one to deliver on the £32 million investment Chelsea made in him.

    Of all those we mention in this list, the prospect of the 23-year-old leading the line for Chelsea is the most exciting. Not only will it show Conte's influence at the club, but it will be encouraging for other young players coming through.

    If Batshuayi steps up, there will be vacant spots in the Chelsea squad for the likes of Tammy Abraham to have a crack at making it their own.

4. Christian Benteke

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    Given the prospect of Chelsea selling Costa for £80 million, we can already hear the cries that the Blues should be aiming a lot higher than Christian Benteke.

    If we consider his past 18 months with Liverpool and now Crystal Palace, it's understandable. The Belgium international hasn't delivered anything like in the way he was expected to after leaving Aston Villa in the summer of 2015.

    His move to Anfield was supposed to be the next big step in his career, but he plateaued at first, before horribly regressing.

    A big problem has been the moves Benteke has made. They haven't suited him simply because of how Liverpool and, to a lesser degree, Palace, play. His style is all about his physicality and under Jurgen Klopp—who replaced the manager who signed him, Brendan Rodgers—he was never going to be an option for the Reds.

    Benteke needs teams to play through him. He needs to sit on the shoulder of defenders and look to break beyond them. He needs to be given opportunities to outmuscle his opposite number and bring others into play.

    It's exactly those qualities that have seen Costa shine at Chelsea. He has suited Conte's system and style perfectly. Benteke can do the same and be lethal in front of goal, as we saw when he played for a struggling Aston Villa side.

    Benteke would cost a fraction of what Chelsea would be spending on a bigger name, too.

3. Alvaro Morata

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    In the same reports from the Telegraph that are linking Costa with a move to China, Alvaro Morata's name comes up as a potential replacement. It was always going to given that Chelsea courted him last summer only for Real Madrid to opt out of selling, having re-signed the Spain international from Juventus.

    Playing second fiddle to Real's awesome BBC combo—Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo—in attack, Morata hasn't made the same impact he did while at Juve.

    He was the fulcrum of the Old Lady's strikeforce, scoring the goals that helped win them the Serie A title in the two seasons he was there, not to mention reaching the 2015 UEFA Champions League final.

    Morata has only made 12 appearances in La Liga this term, with just six of those as starts. For a player of his quality, that's simply not enough. With the offer of guaranteed first-team football at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea may well have enough bargaining power to convince him to leave Madrid.

    Added to that, the Blues will be a more attractive prospect next term as we're expecting them to be back in the Champions League.

    Morata is a different sort of striker to Costa, but that shouldn't act as a negative. He offers a different way of playing football which still suits the 3-4-3 that has been so rewarding this term. A front line of him with Hazard and Pedro would make Chelsea a massive threat at home and abroad.

2. Romelu Lukaku

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    Ever since he left Chelsea for Everton three seasons ago, Romelu Lukaku has been linked with a potential move back to Stamford Bridge. So could this summer be the moment those rumours finally come true?

    Of all the transfer windows, it would make sense for the Belgium international to rejoin the Blues this year should Costa leave for China, or any other destination for that matter.

    Until now, there's never been a starting place guaranteed for Lukaku and, for the money Chelsea would be paying to prise him away from Goodison Park, it meant he wasn't a realistic option. Were he to return at the end of the 2016/17 season, he would most definitely be the main man in Costa's absence.

    For the player himself, that would be good news as last April it was reported by The Sun that Lukaku believes he has "unfinished business" at Stamford Bridge having never made an impact there since joining in 2011 from Anderlecht.

    Lukaku was just 18 when Andre Villas-Boas brought him to west London. He needed time to develop, but as a player not only desperate to prove himself, but confident in his own ability, his future was always going to be away from Chelsea given the other strikers the club had.

    Lukaku will be 24 in May, though. He's on the brink of entering his prime years as a player and is the sort of striker who will flourish at Chelsea. He's an empowering figure up front and is prolific enough to justify a move.

1. Antoine Griezmann

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    Chelsea would have a fight on their hands to sign Antoine Griezmann from Atletico Madrid this summer. Were he to come on the market, it would create a bidding war to end all bidding wars. It would be Europe-wide with all the big guns fighting for his signature.

    It doesn't mean Chelsea should look elsewhere, though.

    The Frenchman's stock continues to rise simply because his level of performance does. He's an incredible player who would slot in well in Chelsea's attack, with his versatility complementing the attributes of Hazard, Pedro and Willian.

    Indeed, Griezmann would allow the Blues to play in the same way we saw against Leicester City on Saturday when Costa was absent on the back of his training-ground row. Conte fielded Willian, Hazard and Pedro as his attackers; with the score finishing 3-0 in Chelsea's favour, we can say it worked.

    There was no out-and-out striker, which Griezmann isn't. Instead, the Atletico man is a forward who enjoys rotating with the others around him, moving wide to allow others to play through the middle.

    He's an exceptional talent and the only negative for Chelsea, if they were to make an attempt at signing him, is that Griezmann will more than likely cost more than they sell Costa for, even if it is the £80 million being reported.

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