Chelsea need to find a quick resolution to the Diego Costa saga and find a man capable of filling his 20-goal a season contribution.
If things rumble on — with the wantaway refusing to return from exile in his native Brazil and forcing a return to Spain’s Atletico Madrid — it threatens to disrupt the start of Chelsea’s Premier League title defence even further.
Antonio Conte may have laughed off questions surrounding the player’s future ahead of his side’s 2-1 win away to Tottenham on Sunday, but if he can’t find a striker with the same firepower this season the jokes may well be on him.
Say what you like, Costa’s behaviour is disgusting, but a massive bust up has obviously occurred behind the scenes and Conte has failed to prevent it from getting out in public.
With a player of Costa’s quality though, Conte needed to handle the situation with care, because in simple terms, without the naturalised Spaniard’s 20 league goals in 35 appearances last season, the Blues wouldn’t have won the league.
Costa’s goals were worth 15 points to the south London club [they only won the league by finishing seven clear of Spurs]. And he topped the list in terms of Premier League players who had contributed most towards their club via points through goals, ahead of Man City’s Sergio Aguero and Tottenham’s Harry Kane.
The 28-year-old rose to the occasion in big games with consistent match winners, seven to be exact with one draw saver.
It’s too late now though, too much has gone on and the situation is unsalvageable. Costa needs to be offloaded as soon as possible, but Chelsea need to balance the joint risk of losing what they paid for him through a quick sale against having this cloud of negativity hanging over their heads for too long while they hold out for the best deal. They should simply cut their losses and move on. That only solves half the problem though.
There’s much hope that Alvaro Morata’s £65 million move from Real Madrid will go some way towards covering Costa’s void at Stamford Bridge.
However, despite getting a goal in Chelsea 3-2 opening defeat at home to Burnley last week, he failed to make an impact against Spurs at the weekend.
Morata is four years younger than Costa, a lot less established and settled and will take time to bed in. At Real Madrid last season, with all that support, he still only scored 15 league goals in 26 appearances.
Look around and you wonder where the goal deficit will come from. Eden Hazard, Pedro and Willian will chip in from midfield but it lacks a bruiser up front like Costa, Drogba or Lukaku that Chelsea have become renowned for, to step up and bully match winners.
Morata, a less physical presence, will need support in that area, and unless Conte can pull off a minor coup by reeling in a suitable replacement, the hilarity may wane. This could be a turning point in his tenure, the moment he failed to keep on good terms with his trump card. Marco Alonso’s brace may have masked the cracks against Spurs and David Luiz may have got the second against Burnley, but Chelsea can’t go all season relying on their defenders to score.