Diego Costa is used to pushing defenders to the limit and forcing them into doing something stupid. But playing the same game with Chelsea might result in them digging their heels in and standing their ground.
There’s a case to be made for either party involved in the row backing down and standing firm.
The case for Chelsea and Conte
Some Chelsea fans wanted to see Costa “rot in the reserves,” but given how charismatic the striker is - and how easily he can cause a furore - I’m sure the Stamford Bridge bosses won’t want to have him near the squad if his influence, of which he has plenty, is going to hurt Conte and the first team. They’re already fighting flames after a shoddy summer in comparison to Manchester City and other English titans, which was only exasperated after their opening day defeat to Burnley, in which they conceded thrice and saw two men sent off.
That said, Chelsea will not be bullied and as a pure matter of principle, they might force Costa to return to training to show future want-aways how they are dealt with.
The other thing Chelsea have in their favour is that Costa is desperate to play in the World Cup next summer and Spain’s talented young generation are taking strides towards earning a place in the squad before LaLiga has even started. (Marco Asensio, we are looking at you!)
Chelsea also know that Atlético have been selling off some of their fringe players and possibly have the money at this stage to buy Costa. Chelsea are also aware that while Atlético have nothing to lose in the fight between the club and the player, they have also put a lot of eggs into this basket. Missing out on Costa means the market suddenly starts to look a lot more scarce.
Gabi: "We know he wants to come, we just need to reach an agreement with Chelsea." #FreeCosta— AtléticoFans (@AtleticoFans) August 17, 2017
The case for Costa
Costa was told he was not wanted, via text, after the season with the bluntest message Conte could muster: “Hi Diego...you are not in my plan.” With player power increasing by the transfer window, Costa might have a case for unfair treatment and is why he is punishing Chelsea and Conte instead of going the traditional route of trying to leave a club.
The 28-year-old did what he did best. He played the role of the antagonist, dressed up in an Atlético shirt and even “sent” Conte a hug via Cesc Fabregas in his Instagram live video.
Chelsea have a prime example of a season that bombed before it ever started with Jose Mourinho’s last year in charge at Stamford Bridge. They missed out on Champions League football and the financial windfall it ensures, and they even flirted with relegation in what was the measliest Premier League title defence in recent memory. A repeat of that would be a worst case scenario for the club.
Conte needed to be more deft in his treatment of Costa and there are possibly a few at the London club who think the same. This situation is not entirely his fault, but it was not helped by the Italian. If Conte is on the brink, what are the chances Costa is shipped to Madrid and Conte follows him shortly after? Clear the decks.
To save their season from going south early, losing Costa and losing this particular game of chicken might be necessary. They just have to make sure they’re not losing everything in the divorce.
What will happen?
Atlético seem to be the ones benefitting the most from the squabble. They will sit and wait until Chelsea are willing to - or forced to - let Costa go for little or nothing. It’s not clear as to whether they have planned this with Costa but that’s how it’s working out.
The problem is it could reach a point where Costa pushes so far that Chelsea are unwilling to even negotiate. And at that point, with Costa saying he only wants to go to Atleti, Chelsea will scream that they will let him go anywhere BUT Atleti.
Ideally, Atlético would arrive with a bid that is not completely desultory but below market value before it gets that far. In this instance, Chelsea save face and can bend the narrative to their liking when it’s over, Atlético get their man and Costa gets his dream move. The timing in all of this needs to be perfect.
Costa is a scrapper, a trouble-maker on the field and he needs that conflict to play his best football. He is currently engaging in a similar form of battling, but he needs to be careful not to push too far.