Atletico Madrid are out of the La Liga title race and struggle desperately to score goals… so could Diego Simeone turn to wildcard Diego Costa to save their season against Liverpool in Champions League showdown?
- Atletico Madrid take on Liverpool in crucial Champions League last-16 tie
- With their league title and domestic cup hopes dashed, Europe holds the key
- With that in mind, Diego Simeone will be tempted to start with Diego Costa
- Atletico have struggled to score goals and Costa is only just back from injury
- But given the situation, Simeone could turn to Costa to supply the firepower
Most of the predicted line-ups have him on the bench but you can bet your breakfast that even as late as Tuesday morning Diego Simeone was staring into his coffee cup and turning over a certain tempting possibility in his head: ‘And if I start with Diego Costa?’
He may have already decided, in which case those thoughts would have been doubts about having made the right call.
Atletico Madrid are out of the title race and the Spanish Cup and Simeone has been sending out the ‘save our season’ flares for a while now.
Diego Costa was in high spirits in training on the eve of Atletico Madrid’s game with Liverpool
Manager Diego Simeone may still be tempted to start Costa in Tuesday night’s first leg
If Tuesday night at the Metropolitano Costa should come riding to the rescue it will not be the first time.
It was almost exactly a year ago when Atletico faced Cristiano Ronaldo’s Juventus in the Metropolitano at this stage of the competition and Costa had been out injured after surgery on a foot problem.
He had managed to speed up his recovery with the Champions League on the horizon and was a surprise addition to Simeone’s starting XI.
His inclusion lifted everyone and although he did not get on the score sheet on the night he helped provoked a memorable performance.
Atletico won the game 2-0 and could and should have won by more. Costa was key for 57 minutes before trotting off to be replaced by Alvaro Morata. Atletico’s great night was soured only by an inability to finish the job in Turin.
Costa was suspended and could not play the second leg and Ronaldo scored a hat-trick and they went out.
Costa raced back from injury to make an impact as Atleti beat Juventus 2-0 12 months ago
But he was shown a yellow card before going off and missed the second leg they lost 3-0
Will Diego Simeone be tempted to gamble and start Costa for the visit of Liverpool?
ATLETICO MADRID vs LIVERPOOL
Tuesday, 8pm kick-off (UK time)
Champions League last 16, first leg
Live on BT Sport 2 and BBC Radio 5
‘He’s been training with enthusiasm’ said Simeone on Monday night in his pre-game press conference.
Costa certainly looked the life and soul on Sunday when the Atletico players kicked off their session with some table football (head and volley tennis with two players each side of a very small table).
And he will be all smiles again tonight even if at first he takes his place on the bench.
Atletico have not had a talisman No 9 for some time now. Fernando Torres will be a VIP guest in the directors’ box this evening. They have not seen his like for a while.
Costa can fill that void, never really covered by Morata who continues to display all the pace, skill, aerial ability of a great forward but without the special character that would enable him to lead the team from the front as Costa did in his first spell and looked like he might do in his second spell had it not been for his injuries.
Atletico’s striking problems are obvious. They have scored just 25 goals this season. That is as low as anyone in the top half of La Liga and compares terribly with Liverpool’s 61 goals from just two more games.
Alvaro Morata has scored 10 goals so far this season as Atletico Madrid struggle to score
Marcos Llorente (right) celebrates after scoring in Atletico’s draw with Valencia on Friday
Atletico Madrid scorers this season
In all competitions
10 – Alvaro Morata
6 – Angel Correa
4 – Joao Felix
3 – Thomas Partey
2 – Koke, Saul Niguez, Felipe, Diego Costa, Vitolo
1 – Renan Lodi, Marcos Llorente, Stefan Savic, Hector Herrera
Costa will bring goals when he is back fully fit and starting games but what he will also bring is belief.
It’s true Costa’s second coming has not lived up to expectations but if you are an Atletico Madrid fan or Simeone – they wanted to sign Rodrigo from Valencia in the summer and it was not possible, then they wanted to sign Edinson Cavani in the winter transfer window and it was not possible – then you will grasp at what you can. And Costa is at least the devil you know.
When he first returned to Atletico Madrid from Chelsea in 2017 for £57.5m, having originally moved to Stamford Bridge for £32m in 2014 it was as if he had never been away when he scored and was sent off on his first home game back.
He formed an impressive partnership with Antoine Griezmann who he paired with against Juventus 12 months ago.
Atletico wanted to sign Edinson Cavani from Paris Saint-Germain but it didn’t happen
Costa (left) and Antoine Griezmann formed a good pairing before the Frenchman left
Injuries have taken their toll. He was bothered by a foot problem that coincided with a run of 18 games without scoring but after he surgery he briefly looked as good as new until the back problem slowed him down again.
Costa has scored 11 goals in 32 games in the Champions League but it’s what he brings to the team that Simeone has been left craving in the 16 games Atletico have had to play without him.
Throwing him straight in tonight after 95 days out with a back problem that needed surgery will be a gamble but it might be one that Simeone feels he can make.
And if he starts on the bench there will be a roar when he first starts to warm up on the touchline. He will lift the stadium and help the supporters believe they can topple Liverpool as they did Juventus last season.