Costa and Mourinho: Supporting your forward

by Sam McGuire

“The problem with Chelsea is I lack a scorer” – José Mourinho, February 2014.

Goals win games. This key element is what cost Chelsea the Premier League title last season. Fast forward 8 months, Chelsea may be lacking fit forwards, but they now have scorers having addressed the issue this summer.

Three new strikers arrived in the summer of 2014; Diego Costa, Didier Drogba and Loïc Rémy. All recognised goal scorers, but it’s safe to say nobody expected this fluidity from a usually structured defensive Mourinho side. 23 goals in 8 Premier League games for the side that only scored 71 in the whole of 13/14 season. Their closest rivals in goals scored are Southampton, on 19, who have Sunderland’s shaky defense to thank for their goal tally.

It’s safe to say Diego Costa has brought his goal scoring form over from Spain, 9 goals in 7 games is quite the return for a player who should just be bedding in right now. He has scored in a variety of different ways, adding flexibility to Chelsea’s attack. If the ball is put into the box, more often than not he’s going to be the one putting it away to finish off a Chelsea move.

Above is three stills in the lead up to Costa goals, as you can see he is inside the area, 15 yards or less, in all of them. Good positions in them all and you will see that he has worked himself into space with his movement so that not one defender is marking him. The top image is of his first goal in the Premier League, against Burnley. It wasn’t the prettiest, but he gets it due to being in the area so when the ball comes out he is able to make a simple finish.

He shouldn’t, however, be categorised as just a poacher. Costa is more than capable of getting the ball deep and running at defenders. He is also comfortable running off the shoulder of the last man as show in the below Image, from the Chelsea game against Everton. For a team that usually play a high line, Everton found it difficult to stay high as Costa’s intelligent movement meant Fàbregas was able to pick him out with a pass regularly. In reality, Everton should’ve maintained their high line and looked to limit the creativity at source, by pressing Fàbregas.

This highlights how difficult it is for the opposition to play against Costa and Chelsea. If the defence drop deep then he is deadly in the area, if they try to play a high line they have to deal with Costa running off them and onto through balls from the likes of Fàbregas, Oscar and Hazard. Not only can these mentioned players provide Costa with ammunition, but Costa is also able to reciprocate the favour.

The pictures above are from Costa’s Atletico days, the image on the left shows him dropping into his own half to get the ball, he passes it and continues his run forward. Simple enough. The image on the right shows him just as he’s receiving the ball. Whilst the opportunity would be there for Costa to use his immense strength and take the defender on himself, he turns provider and makes the pass. Turan goes on to score.

Playing to your strengths

Mourinho has clearly identified Costa’s ability to act as facilitator as well as finisher. Chelsea normally line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Costa flanked by Hazard and one of Willian/Schürrle. These wide players are more effective through the middle. By having Costa drop deep, the space created beyond him can be exploited by these players.

Their average positions throughout the game shows Hazard slightly more advanced than Costa. Both are in away games, yet their opposition are two very different teams. The first image is against Burnley, the second against Sporting. In both games Costa and Hazard play in the space between the defence and the midfield, within a close proximity of each other.

In the Chelsea vs. Everton game, you see Costa and Hazard almost playing as a two. Hazard drifting in from the left and Costa drifting towards the same position, Chelsea clearly identified that area as one to attack due to Coleman advancing further forward and McCarthy not being as defensively minded as Barry. This is shown to be true in the image earlier in the article showing how Costa plays off the last man, which in that case was Jagielka.

This wasn’t just a tactic Mourinho uses when Costa is available; he has used Rémy in a similar role too.

The picture, from the match against Maribor, highlights just how much support the ‘lone’ striker gets, and also how Chelsea build on the space vacated by the striker. Willian on the ball, Hazard shown by the black circle and Oscar the red, all in the area whilst Drogba is just off screen on the edge of the D. This creative trio are able to exploit the space that last season wasn’t there.

Drogba, Costa and Rémy all know that role they have in the Mourinho line up and this new, ruthless Chelsea attack is being paid its dividends. Diego Costa is getting all the headlines lately with scoring those 9 goals, but Chelsea have had ten different goal scorers in the league already. The goals are coming from everywhere. Getting forward in numbers is really paying off for a side that was ‘too defensive’ last season. The Spaniard also provides a tactical flexibility which means Mourinho is able to target the opposition’s weak point more easily. This is particularly important in games against the smaller teams, who almost always have a weak point in the chain. At times last season, though, his team lacked the creativity to break down opposition deep blocks.

Mourinho now has strikers that he trusts, the final piece to last season’s jigsaw. Now completed, he has unleashed his team. Not only do these newly acquired strikers put the ball into the net, they also bring others into the game and get in amongst the goals. Chelsea no longer lack a scorer.

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