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Diego Costa back in the old routine with a debut goal for Atlético Madrid

Diego Costa was back among old friends and came up with a debut goal for Atlético Madrid in the Copa del Rey last-16 tie against Lleida Esportiu, his first game since leaving Chelsea


Diego Costa

Diego Costa back in the old routine with a debut goal for Atlético Madrid

The former Chelsea striker was back among old friends and duly scored in the Copa del Rey last-16 game against Lleida Esportiu

Sid Lowe at the Camp d'Esports

@sidlowe

Wed 3 Jan 2018 20.46 GMTLast modified on Thu 4 Jan 2018 11.09 GMT

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Diego Costa celebrates his first goal on his second debut for Atlético Madrid in the 4-0 win over Lleida Esportiu.Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

Diego Costa had only been back five minutes when he scored his first Atlético Madrid goal in three and a half years but no sooner had he started than he stopped again. As the supporters behind the goal celebrated, Costa sat on the turf, looking at his right leg. He had stretched, diving in among the studs, to turn the ball home and had paid for it. The game – his first for eight months – kicked off again while he limped round the touchline with the doctor and fitness coach Óscar “El Profe” Ortega, yet he was not going to be beaten. He had waited too long to give up. So, Costa slowed by the bench, showed Diego Simone his shin and then ran on once more.

“It was just a scare,” said his team-mate Vitolo, making his debut alongside him. Costa’s number was not up, after all. Minutes before, it had been. Costa had began as a sub and it was 8.17pm under a full moon before they called him over, the fourth official there with the board and the wait finally at an end. Costa pulled off his tracksuit top to reveal the 18 below, knelt down, crossed himself and headed to the touchline, high-fived Ángel Correa and made his way onto a football pitch for the first time in 221 days, crossing himself once more and pointing to the sky. Chants of “independence!” were interrupted by the cheers from the Atlético fans, while supporters of Lleida Esportiu whistled and booed.

Mr Bad Guy was back. Less than five minutes later, he had scored – just as he did on his debut for Chelsea. As he went in, trying to reach Juanfran’s cross, the Lleida centre-back Marc Trilles stood on his shin. He was never going to pull out. “He’d put his foot into the blades of a fan,” Vitolo grinned afterwards. He would do that and more besides. Not long after he reappeared, knock on the shin forgotten, just the first war-wound of his second era at Atlético, there was a confrontation with Jorge Félix, the referee forced to intervene. Ricardo de Burgos Bengoetxea kept the yellow in his pocket.

Was this “pure Costa” Simeone was asked afterwards? Atlético’s coach preferred to talk about the collective but he did laud the “enthusiasm” Costa brings, the “speed, decisiveness, and physical strength,” and while this return was less than half an hour long there was something in that question, as if his game had been distilled into those minutes, like a trailer for a film. “Costa: The Return,” perhaps.

It was nothing they had not expected and it was everything they had expected, if not necessarily so concentrated so soon. “We know what he brings us,” Simeone had said before the game, beginning his description with “aggression”. They had missed him; as for Costa, he had missed playing, his way. Simeone had wanted him back virtually from the day he left and time only deepened the longing. Mario Mandzukic, Jackson Martínez, Fernando Torres, Kevin Gameiro, Ángel Correa and Luciano Vietto all arrived but the only replacement for Diego Costa was Diego Costa

This was Costa’s first game since May 2017 and his first for Atlético since May 2014. The scene had changed. At 13,500, the Camp d’Esports is among the biggest at this level in Spain, a modern, municipal arena with colourful club badges adorning the corners, like lollipops on sticks, a club shop selling shirts but no mugs, and it was not far off a sell-out. Yet it is not the Stadium of Light or Wembley and this Copa del Rey last 16 first leg against Lleida Esportiu from Spain’s 80-team, four-group, theoretically-amateur third tier was no European Cup or FA Cup final, either.

Costa finally arrived in Madrid in September for €65m, not just four months since his last match but since any meaningful activity at all: his only football was kickabouts with friends in Lagarto, broadcast on social media. As he arrived, Costa knew what awaited and it was terrifying: Ortega, Atlético’s 59-year-old fitness coach, has a reputation as big as his calves and sometimes seems to have a sadistic streak too. “He’ll soon get me into shape,” Costa said, wearing a big grin and a bit of a belly. He trained, regularly boxed in a gym owned by Fernando Torres and lost 8kg.

Now at last here he was. “Play!” said the front cover of the sports newspaper Marca. From the start in Lleida, he didn’t. But at half-time he was out there warming up with Antoine Griezmann, the partnership that promises – at least until the Frenchman’s inevitable departure. As the second half began, he pulled on a bib and made for the corner, warming up with Griezmann, Vitolo and then Tomas Partey, El Profe barking at them. Costa had watched from the bench as Diego Godín headed in the first from a dead ball – something things never change, he might have thought – and Fernando Torres made it 2-0. Then he was called over, the board went up and he began again. He went on, off and on once more, this time for good.

Topics

  • Diego Costa

  • Copa del Rey
  • Atlético Madrid
  • European club football
  • features

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