When Diego Costa is playing at his best, he’s not one of the most beloved and entertaining strikers in the world like many of his peers. No, when Diego Costa is at his best, he’s one of the most reviled, awful, despicable players in the entire game — and that version of Costa is back.
After a long spell hampered by injuries, poor personal form, and worse form from many of his teammates, Costa was back to his old tricks on Monday against West Ham United. He was playing at a high level, constantly disrupting West Ham’s defense and making a nuisance of himself from first whistle to last — but he also came awfully close to hurting his own team dearly.
Early in the match, Costa earned himself a yellow card for arguing with referee Anthony Taylor, something that’s been a common sight over the past few years. It was in the second half when things got dicey, though — with Chelsea holding a narrow 1-0 lead in the 66th minute, Costa was putting pressure on West Ham goalkeeper Adrián in the penalty area. As Adrian turned to knock the ball away to give himself more room to work with, Costa dove in with a late and dangerous tackle, catching Adrián with his cleats just below the knee. It was clearly a foul very clearly worthy of a second yellow.
Taylor kept his cards in his pocket. As we’ve seen so many times before, Costa somehow, some way, avoided being sent off. West Ham was furious, fans in the stadium were furious, fans around the world were furious, but Costa kept playing, Chelsea avoided going down a man, and it was perhaps inevitable that he was the one who scored Chelsea’s winning goal in the 89th minute.
The outrage over Costa scoring the winning goal when, rightfully, he should have been off the pitch and Chelsea a man down was palpable. As frustrating as it is to see an injustice like that, though, and as troubling as it is to see rash, dangerous tackles like his go unpunished, the simple fact is that when Costa isn’t playing like the biggest jerk in the EPL, he’s nowhere near as good as he’s capable of being.
Is it unpleasant? Yes. Is it frustrating? Goodness yes. But Costa’s skill is undeniable, and if being a jerk is what it takes to bring out that quality, then so be it. Every league needs a designated bad guy, after all, and Costa fits the bill perfectly. But it would be great if he could do that without running the risk of seriously injuring other players.