Jose has found his foil, his man Friday, a player who represents all the things Jose himself strives for. Few thought that Diego Da Silva Costa wouldn’t survive in the Premier League, but even fewer would have anticipated him to thrive quite so effectively as he has, and quite so quickly. He has scored 7 goals in his first 4 games, despite not being at full fitness for at least one of them (and in that game, against Everton, he bagged a tidy brace). For the first time in ages, a star striker has immediately lived up to the billing, performing as well, better even, at his new club after securing a big move over the summer. There has been no drop in continuity for Costa, unless you count his lacklustre time with Spain at the World Cup. How Chelsea must have yearned for a striker like Costa last season when, toothless and reliant upon Demba Ba, Fernando Torres and Samuel Eto’o, they fell short of the title, outscored by Manchester City and Liverpool. It all seems a distant memory now, and they remain the only team in the league with a perfect record, having dispatched of Swansea, the only other perfect team, with gusto and without mercy on Saturday.
Costa, on top of his ruthlessness in front of goal, is also a perfect Jose-style nuisance. Mourinho, the serial pest, whose every word must be taken with a truckload of salt, has garnished his career with a litany of distasteful episodes; the eye-poke, the celebratory charge down the touchline at Old Trafford, the countless provocative press conferences. After 4 years of coaching against him, Pep Guardiola had to take a year-long sabbatical to recover from the ordeal. Mourinho is a relentless menace, and he relishes the opportunity to destabilise the ground on which his opponents rest. He no doubt sees a lot of these qualities in his new Brazilian-cum-Spanish hitman, who himself loves to deliver a good, hard poke to the ribs.
Premier League viewers have already had a taste of this vicious sensibility, when Costa gleefully rubbed in Seamus Coleman’s own-goal misery during the win over Everton, a mean-spirited gesture that infuriated the opposition manager Roberto Martinez. Costa had callously taunted the young defender after his own goal had put Chelsea 3-1 up and, as Martinez scolded after the game, Costa is yet to “understand the ethics” of the Premier League. “The last thing I would do myself” Martinez spat, “is fall into a trap and be disrespectful that way.”
Costa and Mourinho have no time for such moralising. If an opportunity arises to infuriate an opponent, to wind them up to the point of self-immolation, then both will have no qualms about taking it. Costa,like Mournho, has inadvertently gotten himself in trouble on multiple occasion trying to do just this. In 2012, after a late Atleti equaliser was ruled out for offside in a match against Viktoria Plzn, Costa contrived to get himself sent off for pushing a Plzn player during the subsequent melee. He flirted with the crimson again in Spain’s opening World Cup game against the Netherlands, when he pushed his forehead into the face of Dutch defender Bruno Martins Indi. These instances are not uncommon. When he isn’t caught, this behaviour can give Costa a competitive edge, provoking the man marking him into reacting angrily and earning a booking, all while Costa does the “who me, sir?” act. But when his duplicity is noticed, or he lets himself get too carried away, he can hurt his team for it. Mourinho similarly found that his alienation of Iker Casillas towards the end of his tenure at Real Madrid was also a step too far, and the ugly affair was one of the straws that broke the camel’s back for him in Spain. But success has always followed Mourinho, in spite of this, perhaps even because of it. The Jose method is a deadly cocktail of provocation and genius, of subterfuge and brilliance, and it’s a method in which Costa is shaping up to play a big part for Chelsea this season.
The season is only four games old, and as we saw last season with Alvara Negredo, a strikers form can change faster than green grass through a goose. Quaint idioms aside, it wouldn’t take more than a silly red card, and a resulting ban, to bring Costa’s blazing goal-scoring run to a shuddering halt. But if he can keep his shenanigans subtle enough, then his first season in England will likely be a wonderful one.
The team looks much more rounded now; Costa’s potency has balanced it perfectly. It looks like a perfect Mourinho team, Terry provides the experienced, deep-lying solidity at the back, Matic the workmanlike muscularity in midfield, Hazard, Oscar and Fabregas the invention going forward, and Costa the assured and ruthless finishing at the end of it all. Every area of the pitch is embellished with extra assets, Willian and Schurrle, Ramires, Azpilicueta and Ivanovic. Courtois and Cech might be the best first and second choice goalkeeper pairing ever assembled. And, as an outstanding contingency plan, Loic Remy stands waiting for an opportunity should Costa get injured or incur a ban. The Frenchman scored Chelsea’s fourth against Swansea on Saturday, slapping a very tidy shot low into the bottom corner. It seems remarkable that no one else signed him before Chelsea, and one wonders what that failed medical at Liverpool was all about. Every player is a hard working Mourinho troop, and they have had a lot of time to bed in because of how early most of the transfer business was completed. If not for Costa’s explosive start, we’d all be wowing for vocally at how quickly Cesc Fabregas has reacclimatised to the Premier League. If you count on from his last two games as an Arsenal player, he’s the first Premier League player to ever play six consecutive games with at least one assist in each. So far this season he has six assists, four of them laid on to set up Costa. What a one-two punch they’re becoming.
Mourinho must be a very contented man indeed. Chelsea are yet to play a top four team, so the trip to take on Manchester City at the Etihad in two weeks time ought to be a proper test of their mettle. But it looks like Mourinho has found an ideal partner in crime and so he will be confident that, with Costa thriving under his watchful eye, his team will be able to beat any side they face this season.