Diego Costa was back at Stamford Bridge yesterday afternoon for the first time in five years. The snarling, combative, aggressive and hugely talented forward spearheaded two Premier League title wins for Chelsea and a League Cup triumph under Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte before leaving under a cloud for Atletico Madrid.
Yet there is no animosity held toward the 34-year- old by Chelsea supporters. Costa is remembered fondly, and there were cheers from the home fans inside Stamford Bridge when his name was read out prior to the clash with Wolves. And they only grew louder throughout the afternoon.
Costa was signed by Wolves last month, although it wasn’t exactly planned. A knee ligament injury to summer signing Sasa Kalajdzic left Wanderers a striker short, and despite Costa having not played a professional game in 2022, he was brought by the Premier League side. It was clear during Chelsea’s 3-0 victory yesterday afternoon that Costa isn’t fully up to speed.
The fact Wolves were incredibly poor in possession didn’t help, but there was a lack of sharpness to the former Spain international’s game, and his trademark hostility toward opponents was absent.
There was the merest flash in the opening period of the old Costa in the opening period; he half- heartedly bodychecked former teammate Cesar Azpilicueta as Wolves prepared to take a throw-in. But it wasn’t quite the Costa Chelsea supporters fondly remember. The fear factor has gone.
Costa lasted 57 minutes before being replaced. It was at that moment that those inside Stamford Bridge rose to their feet and serenaded the striker with his trademark chant – it was perhaps the loudest noise made by the home fans all afternoon.
There was an embrace with Azpilicueta and a handshake with Jorginho as Costa exited. He chose to do so in front of the West Stand, and that enabled him to walk around the pitch and earn adulation from three sides of the stadium. It felt a fitting farewell.
Potter earns £70m assurance
As Wesley Fofana limped away from Stamford Bridge on Wednesday evening following Chelsea’s Champions League victory over AC Milan, those inside the dressing room feared the worst. The £70million signing from Leicester City may not have instantly settled into the starting XI, but he appeared to be a go-to defensive option for Potter.
It was Trevoh Chalobah who was introduced from the substitutes’ bench against Milan, and the academy graduate produced a flawless display despite coming up against the threat of Rafael Leao. So it was only right that he kept his place in the starting XI for the visit of Wolves.
Deployed in a back four alongside Kalidou Koulibaly for the majority of the contest, Chalobah was an assured presence in the backline. He helped shackle Costa and Daniel Podence but what particularly stood out was his ability to progress the ball when under – admittedly rare – pressure from Wolves’ forwards.
There was one instance in the second period that Chalobah appeared to have been sold a little short, but he remained calm to evade the press and shift the ball out wide to Reece James, who was then able to launch an attack down the Chelsea right flank.
The start was only Chalobah’s second of the campaign; he has had to remain patient so far this season. But he showcased against Wolves why he should be in the starting XI for the midweek trip to San Siro, even if Thiago Silva will return having been given the afternoon off.
Potter has made no secret over the past week that he would rotate his side throughout October. Given Chelsea’s fixture schedule, that is entirely logically. So while eyebrows were raised when it was confirmed the Blues head coach had made seven changes against Wolves, it wasn’t a huge surprise. No risks were taken on several players.
“Thiago [Silva] had a heavy cold at the start of the week but played against Milan,” Potter explained. “Two days to recover is really short for him, so we didn’t want to take the chance there. Ben Chilwell playing three games in a week after recovering from an ACL injury. That wouldn’t have been the smartest thing to do to put him out there, especially when we’ve got Marc Cucurella.
“Reece James had a dead leg that wasn’t fully recovered yesterday, so we wanted to give him a bit of extra time and use him at the back end of the game rather than the start. Obviously, we missed Wesley [Fofana] and Mateo Kovacic, three games in a week for him would’ve been too much as he has been nursing a knee problem. So, again we can use Jorginho and Ruben [Loftus-Cheek].
“Raheem [Sterling] has had a load of football this season, so we thought it would be good for him to have a breather and help us at the back end of the game if we needed him. It’s similar with Auba [Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang]. Even though he is in a great moment and forwards rely on rhythm, he hasn’t had that much football previous to coming to Chelsea and has had an injury.”
Those who came into the side delivered. Cesar Azpilicueta enjoyed one of his better outings in recent memory, while Chalobah was impressive, as highlighted above. Cucurella was solid at left- back. Jorginho was sharp in the ball in midfield, Conor Gallagher offered energy and quality down the right, and Christian Pulisic and Kai Havertz made telling contributions.
It was Havertz who scored the opener with an impressive looping header beyond Jose Sa. Pulisic then produced a fine lifted finish over Sa to put Chelsea clear. Both goals were fashioned by Mason Mount, who hadn’t managed a goal involvement previously in the top flight.
There was further impact off the bench as Armando Broja replaced Havertz and scored his first goal for the club. The academy graduate’s finish was assured and one of quality. It was also a heartwarming moment to round off the victory.
“It’s unreal, I’ve been waiting for my first goal. It’s a surreal moment. I can’t put it into words.”