Rewind two weeks and Diego Costa’s time at Wolverhampton Wanderers appeared destined to end in failure, with disciplinary and form issues looking like they’d ensure he’d struggle to impact how he and the club would’ve hoped for.
But the last couple of weeks have seen him impressively go a long way towards turning around his fortunes, as he’s put in some upside littered performances during Wolves’ outstanding victories against Chelsea and Brentford.
The feisty forward even eye-catchingly netted his first Premier League goal in nearly six years when he found the back of the net against the Bees to give himself some tangible reward for his upswing in form.
Proving a real handful of late and showcasing precisely why Wolves were keen to bring him in, the wily veteran’s doing a fine job of leading the line for Julen Lopetegui’s men.
Adding some real leadership, intensity and aggression, he’s cut a revitalised figure, as he’s set the tone for his colleagues to follow with his dogged efforts. Far more mobile and nimble, it’s been fun to watch Costa making a real nuisance of himself with his crafty, energetic runs both in front of and in behind the defence.
Choosing his moments wisely when to pounce, how he’s expertly timed his movement to provide the ball holder with a viable option has helped breathe life into attacks for Wolves. Whether dropping deep to connect play to take advantage of openings between the lines, smartly working the channels, surging in behind, instinctively tailoring his movement inside the area or peeling wide, his timing, awareness and ability to gain separation has given him an edge.
The examples below illustrate his space finding powers aptly, with the first one highlighting how masterfully he held his run prior to his somewhat fortuitous goal vs. Brentford.
Not only has he given his team an outlet to feed him with through balls, line breaking passes and cutbacks, but he’s also been a quality target for aerial balls, with his presence and capacity to quickly pick up the ball’s trajectory helping his team win second balls and act as an ideal target for deliveries into the area from open play or set-pieces.
Intimidating, powerful and strong, Costa’s notably used his powerful frame to hold up the ball with his back to goal while waiting for an option, which has come especially in handy when he maintains possession before pinpointing runners in transition.
Efficient at scanning behind him, this crucially gives him the knowledge so he knows if he can turn, needs to protect the ball, get rid of it quickly and ensures he knows which direction to take his all-important first touch in.
Some extra positives attached to his work when checking deep arise from how he’s combined intricately in close quarters with wicked lay-offs, flicks and backheels, plus how he’s successfully drawn out markers to generate room for colleagues in the final third.
Getting through a power of work defensively as well, this aspect of his armoury has amplified his worth, for the man who’s well schooled in off the ball exertions, most notably during his time under Diego Simeone at Atletico Madrid, has been executing his role wonderfully.
Fierce in the challenges, tigerish in his harrying, tracking back diligently and intelligently using his cover shadow to block passing lanes while pressing, there’s been much to admire about his stopping output.
Proving an absolute handful for his adversaries with his handy blend of brains and brawn, the 34-year-old deserves tremendous credit for stepping up when his team’s needed him and repaying the faith Lopetegui has placed in him.
The fact Costa’s been a key figure within the dressing room adds to his worth, with teammate Mario Lemina insightfully explaining how beneficial it’s been having the funny and ultra-competitive Costa around in all areas.
“He’s a funny character, a big joker. He could just be the old man, but he is not. He’s working really hard and putting us players under pressure all the time in training,” he said.
“For me he’s a key player. He gives us his experience and speaks to us a lot. Defenders are scared of him. He’s a big character and they know what he has done. It is important for us to know there is a striker who makes the defence feel under pressure.”
So integral towards getting those two vital consecutive wins to steer Wolves further towards Premier League safety, it’ll be intriguing observing what role he has to play throughout the remainder of the season.
Despite his best years being behind him and it unlikely he’ll remain at the Molineux next season, it’s certainly been admirable how he’s gone from failure to focal point at Wolves.
Boasting a real warrior mentality and still capable of terrorising defences, you can guarantee Costa will relish doing what he does best and continuing to prove his doubters wrong.
Who knows, in the process, he might even earn himself a new deal with Wolves beyond this campaign, which seemed extremely unlikely just a few short weeks ago.