Chelsea were back to their very best in the Premier League last season, with Antonio Conte transforming the squad Jose Mourinho left behind from mid-table flops into league champions. Key to the Blues’ upturn in fortunes during the 2016/17 campaign were the arrivals of David Luiz and N’Golo Kante, however, it would be naive to overlook the improvement in Eden Hazard and Diego Costa under the Italian.
Costa was particularly important for Chelsea, with the Spanish international back to his best and the main man in attack at Stamford Bridge, giving defenders across the country nightmares. However, Costa and Chelsea appear to be going their separate ways this summer, leaving Conte with a huge gap to fill heading into the 2017/18 campaign.
The potential absence of Costa next season will dent Chelsea’s hopes of securing back-to-back Premier League titles for the first time in over a decade (2004/05 and 2005/06). The Blues are currently priced at 7/2 to lift the trophy in May, which may be tempting enough for punters to back in conjunction with the “bet £10, get £30” welcome bonuses offered by bookmakers, but places the side behind Man City and United in contention.
If Chelsea are to win their sixth Premier League title, they must fill the goalscoring void left by the 28-year-old Costa.
Costa scored 20 goals in the Premier League last season, and with Chelsea not competing in Europe, Conte was able to call on his main striker in most league fixtures. Next year will be different, and with the Blues back in the Champions League, whoever replaces Costa will have to play considerably more games – with Michy Batshuayi in line for more game time over the course of the campaign as the Blues fight on four fronts.
There is, of course, the claim that Batshuayi could replace Costa, after the 23-year-old impressed when given a chance by Conte towards the end of the season, scoring four goals in his last three Premier League appearances – including the goal that won Chelsea the title in a 1-0 victory over West Bromwich Albion. However, it is likely that the Belgian youngster will again be used as backup and a more household name will be brought to Stamford Bridge.
It is ridiculous to think that Costa was the main reason Chelsea won the league last season, when so many others impressed throughout the campaign. However, it can never be underestimated just how important it is to have a 20-goal striker within your team, whether you are fighting at the bottom of the table or at the top of the table.
Costa was well-suited to the English game, and his 52 Premier League goals came from just 89 appearances, leaving him with one of the best goals-per-game ratios in the top flight over the last three seasons.
Should he leave Stamford Bridge, the 28-year-old will be missed. And the club’s hopes of successfully defending their title have taken a huge blow by his pending departure, as there are no guarantees that whoever replaces Costa will manage to have the same impact on the Premier League.