Premier League Tactics Corner – Round 3

Costa

In this week’s edition of Premier League Tactics Corner, we analyze Diego Costa’s movement and pressing, as well as Stoke City’s defensive tactics against Manchester City.

Chelsea’s Costa

Costa does three things really well. He presses, he uses his speed, and he finishes. He’s as old school as center forwards come and as simple as a combination of Brazilian, Portuguese and Spanish soccer coaches make them.

There’s not much to preface analyzing Costa’s style, besides noting that he won’t be slaloming through five or six players. Instead of being fancy, he’ll simply run by one or two and let the ball do the work for him. Below, he opens up his Premier League account against Burnley with this simple finish.

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The Spaniard has to be aware of where he is after the initial ball pops off the frame. Some forwards would have crashed the net, but Costa decides to read the play. What analysts don’t say about players is how smart they are. Experience is one thing, but being an intelligent footballer, especially off the ball, is something special.

Chelsea’s No. 19 is a bulldog too. He’s not afraid to lunge at the ball and poke it by the goalkeeper as he did against Leicester City. If this isn’t poaching, then I don’t know what is.

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However, Costa scares defenses most when he wreaks havoc 30 to 40 yards from goal, when the ball is in midfield. He prefers quick attacks and working with smart players like Cesc Fabregas who can slide him through. To set the tone against Everton, he did this:

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Runs like that are exactly what Chelsea was missing last season and they suit the Blues’ style as well. Jose Mourinho’s squad had the power of Nemanja Matic and finesse of Eden Hazard in midfield, but the strike force could not latch onto or read the killer balls players of that quality can provide. The former Atletico Madrid man can get onto the end of those balls and beat defensive lines.

That is why Costa and Spain make for an odd couple. While Costa can hold up play well, he’s so dangerous when he breaks down a defense with a powerful run. However, Spain does not play that way. Costa likes to breakdown high lines with speed, while La Roja wants to pass its way through it. Spain wanted to play with a true striker though, and it only worked when they played vertical football in the attacking third.

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Above, Costa earns a penalty kick that gave his country a 1-0 lead over the Netherlands. Xavi spots his run through the Oranje’s defense, so that the Chelsea man can get into the box. Spain was able to get Costa in over the top a few more times in this match, and it was in that context that the Spanish threatened the opposition most.

On the less sexy side of the ball, Costa is a workhorse. He is constantly closing down defenses and goalkeepers. As the first line of defense, he reads the ball and notices when his teammates force the opposition into uncomfortable spaces. Against Burnley, he notices that Chelsea have pressured a backpass to the keeper. As soon as the Burnley player makes that decision, Costa sprints to intercept the ball, which has a lack of pace on it.

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