José Mourinho portrayed Diego Costa as a persecuted innocent. Roberto Martínez settled for childish. Polarising opinion comes as naturally to the naturalised Spaniard as upsetting, unsettling and punishing defences, although there is no disputing the reason Chelsea have their menace back. In one chaotic, unforgettable encounter, he also demonstrated why Fernando Torres, Romelu Lukaku and Samuel Eto’o have taken their leave from Stamford Bridge.
Costa, 25, started and finished the nine-goal spectacle that ended with the look of a rout but was an enthralling, end-to-end and error-strewn contest until the 90th minute. Only when the £32m striker profited from Muhamed Besic’s dreadful first touch as an Everton player, sold Sylvain Distin and Tim Howard a glorious dummy and scored Chelsea’s sixth did Mourinho relax.
As the late as the 81st minute, when Thibaut Courtois produced a stunning save to tip Kevin Mirallas’s volley on to a post after another incisive Everton attack, there were no guarantees. That would have made it 4-5 and turned Goodison Park into a bear pit. Chelsea, however, always found a quick, emphatic way to put Everton back in their box. The corresponding fixture last season produced a 1-0 win for Martínez’s team and an early but ultimately familiar lament about profligacy from Mourinho. Now, with the creativity of Cesc Fábregas, Nemanja Matic’s authority in midfield and Costa’s threat, there is a more complete look to Chelsea. Mourinho condemned his team’s defending but thanks to Costa’s acquisition from Atlético Madrid, Martínez was left with graver concerns on that score.
It was not only Costa’s third and fourth goals in three Premier League appearances that impressed. His movement broke Everton as a defensive unit from the off, his touch brought Ramires and Fábregas into the attack and in clearing several corners, plus a perfectly timed challenge on Seamus Coleman in the Chelsea penalty area, he showed defending is not beneath him. The duel with Coleman spilled over into handbags and a booking for the Chelsea striker after he failed to heed a warning from the referee, Jon Moss.
Moments later Costa goaded Coleman after the Everton right-back deflected Eden Hazard’s cross into his own net, prompting a furious reaction from Howard, who grabbed the striker, placed his head into César Azpilicueta but received only a yellow card. The USA international could have seen red for handling outside his area in the 10th minute, with Chelsea two goals ahead, only for the assistant referee Ron Ganfield to inexplicably miss that indiscretion. And the fact that Branislav Ivanovic was offside when he scored Chelsea’s second goal. And that Costa was onside when he raced clear after another error by Phil Jagielka shortly before half-time.
“Diego is a mature guy,” claimed Mourinho. “He has played in some very big matches and comes from a situation where this is no pressure for him. Diego is enjoying the nature of this competition. What he is not enjoying is the fact that he comes clean and comes to play football.
“He comes to give a spectacle in these three matches but people have been chasing cards for him like they did in this match and, in fact, the referees are moving in this direction too because he has had two yellow cards in three matches, which is hard to understand. He was chased, chased. He is one of, if not the best, player in the Premier League. Normally he would be the player of the month but he has two yellow cards and won’t get it.”
Martínez viewed Costa’s behaviour quite differently. “I know players take time to adapt from Spain and South America but he needs to understand that we are quite unique in our league; we are very honest and quite respectful with each other. He made fun of a disappointing action [Coleman’s own goal]. That’s not a reflection of the class that he has. He’s a top player and has had to fight a lot for what he’s got. I think his career deserves a lot of credit so it’s a real shame when you’ve got a childish reaction like that.”
Aside from the accusations (Costa and Howard continued to shout insults at each other for the rest of the game before embracing on the final whistle) the pandemonium caused by the Chelsea forward, Everton’s dreadful defending but vibrant attacking play, poor refereeing and the visitors’ swagger yielded a contender for game of the season. Costa converted Fábregas’s fifth assist of the season after only 35 seconds and Ivanovic buried a dubious second before Everton’s impressive response was rewarded when Mirallas headed home Coleman’s cross.
The second half was simply ridiculous. Five goals arrived in 10 minutes, with Coleman restoring Chelsea’s two-goal advantage, Steven Naismith reducing it within 60 seconds, Matic restoring it four minutes later from 20 yards, the impressive Eto’o steering a fine header into the bottom corner on his debut and Ramires prodding Matic’s through ball into the far corner. Fittingly, the finale came from Costa. “Diego has started very well,” said Didier Drogba. “He looks special, he’s scoring goals and helping the team. He’s settled right in. He’s started much better than I did.”
Man of the match Diego Costa (Chelsea)