Diego Costa’s polemical yet prolific stay at Chelsea has taken yet another turn, with the snarling Spaniard apparently preparing to sit out his side’s encounter with Leicester City on Saturday.
The 28-year-old has apparently been involved in a spat with fitness coach Julio Tous during training, something that has reportedly denied Costa, who’s the Premier League’s top goalscorer with 14, a trip to face the reigning champion this weekend.
Related – Report: Costa dropped from Chelsea squad after training ‘bust-up’
The timing isn’t exactly ideal.
Chelsea had a 13-match Premier League winning streak ended by Tottenham Hotspur last time out, and the performances of Costa this term – not only contributing regular strikes, but also introducing a controlled aggression to his play – have made him one of the most vital components of Antonio Conte’s celebrated 3-4-3 setup.
Here are three ways the Italian tactician can reshuffle his system in light of Costa’s expected absence:
Chelsea may want to reconsider loaning out Michy Batshuayi and bringing in the aerially adept but rather immobile Fernando Llorente in his stead, as reported last week.
Costa’s selflessness was one of the most welcome additions to his arsenal under Conte’s watch, and Llorente, a player who tended to be more concerned about backing into his defender rather than instigating attacks at Swansea City, simply hasn’t got the legs to assume that duty.
It should be time to reintroduce Michy Batshuayi then, the industrious frontman brought in from Olympique Marseille in the summer but has been limited to 12 substitute appearances in the league. At the start of the season he worked well when introduced from the bench, and his brawn and pace – if closely bordered by Eden Hazard and Pedro – can help remedy Costa’s absence.
How Chelsea fielded when Costa served a one-match suspension in the Boxing Day bout with Bournemouth.
Hazard put in his best performance of the season that afternoon, single-handedly ravaging Simon Francis and the rest of his teammates. He made a phenomenal 13 dribbles at Stamford Bridge, and laid on a game-high four key passes.
He was flourishing in what many dubbed a false nine, when in fact he was simply in a free role – left to his own devices in how to exert his creativity, nimbleness, and find space – or something more resembling a false 9.5, given his position on the pitch often drifting around the traditional No. 10 hole.
In this shape, Willian – perhaps an unfair victim in the 3-4-3 formation – would be ushered back into the lineup.
Similar to how Chelsea was shifted around for the 4-1 FA Cup dismissal of Peterborough United last Sunday, and how Conte often assembled his Juventus ranks.
N’Golo Kante can slot between the back three and midfield with ease, Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses can resume their respective jobs at wing-back, while Cesc Fabregas and Nemanja Matic will still be combative, but can also contribute going forward.
If Fabregas’ legs aren’t trusted in such a formation, the talented Ruben Loftus-Cheek is an exemplary replacement, as is his fellow academy graduate Nathaniel Chalobah.
The front pairing is changeable too, but the performances from Pedro and Hazard merit selections from the first whistle. The fact that they’re not out-and-out strikers would necessitate more support from an attack-minded midfielder or wing wanderer, and that spot is likely earmarked for Chalobah.