It’s déjà vu for Atlético Madrid.
Just as was the case this time last year, they have Diego Costa on their books, but they won’t be able to use him until after Christmas. In 2017/18, it was because they had to wait to register him and complete his transfer. This time around it’s because he’ll go for an operation on his troubled left foot and isn’t expected back for several weeks, maybe even months.
His absence will be problematic for los rojiblancos. It will force Ángel Correa to play more often and to play further forward. It will oblige Nikola Kalinić to turn promising glimpses into goals. It will require another one or two Borja Garcés magic moments. It’ll increase the burden on Antoine Griezmann’s shoulders.
But his absence is also necessary. Costa has needed to go under the knife for several weeks, and it’s only fair on him that he receives the medical treatment that he needs and deserves. Against Girona, he battled through the pain to play all 90 minutes and to provoke the own goal equaliser of the 1-1 draw, but he clearly wasn’t healthy.
“He made a huge effort and put his soul into every passage of play,” Diego Simeone remarked.
But soul, grit and determination can only stretch so far — even for a player for whom these characteristics matter so much.
In Sunday’s match, Bernardo Espinosa clearly knew about Costa’s lack of fitness and forced him into a physical duel for which he was limited. Other centre-backs across LaLiga would have been prepared to deal with Costa in a similar manner in the coming weeks had the Spain international not been sent for surgery. Atleti have Alavés, Real Valladolid, Espanyol, Sevilla and Levante coming up. None of these teams’ centre-backs are known for being soft and cuddly.
So Costa will get the treatment and the rest that he deserves and, just like last year, he’ll return at the beginning of the calendar year like a January signing, looking to build on his paltry return of one league goal. This time, though, his team will still be involved in the Champions League. If los colchoneros are to make a serious run in that competition — with the aim of making it to the final at their own stadium — then a fit, healthy Costa will be essential. His lack of fitness already cost them in the 2014 final in Lisbon, so it’s essential he is treated sooner rather than later, at the business end of the year.
Atlético fans across the globe should be grateful to Costa for the pain-enduring effort he put in at Montilivi, as he helped the team take a point away from a really disappointing performance. But Costa’s mind and spirit can only take him so far. He needs his body, too.