Fresh Faces returns from our own international break to take a look at two more of the Premier League’s new arrivals for the 2014/15 season, this time casting a judgemental eye towards Alexis Sánchez and Diego Costa. Both new forwards arrived in London to lead the lines of their respective clubs towards glory at home and in Europe, so how have they measured up so far, and how instrumental should we expect these new imports to be in the coming season?
Going into this weekend’s home game to Swansea there were two things to know about Diego Costa – he’d already bagged himself four goals from the opening three Premier League matches since pulling on a Chelsea shirt, and he was nursing a hamstring injury. A late fitness test saw Costa on the team sheet, once again linking up with Cesc Fàbregas to create and score some lovely goals.
Costa strikes a stark contrast to the attacking options available to José Mourinho last season, with strength and confidence in abundance, as well as a sublime ability to read the game quickly in the out-and-out centre-forward position. These are, of course, exactly the skills often associated with a poacher, a position often derided or belittled among armchair managers – but Costa is demonstrating how effective it can be when executed so brilliantly. That being said, in the opening games those who pour scorn on the poacher may have felt their position strengthened as Costa settled into the league, and found himself facing English defences who typically offer less free space for forwards to operate in – despite goals in both opening fixtures (Burnley and Leicester), Costa looked like a player who needed to adapt his game to succeed in the Premier League.
Costa strikes a stark contrast to the attacking options available to José Mourinho last season with strength, confidence and a sublime ability to read the game quickly in the out-and-out centre-forward position.
And he has. The skills at the core of his game equip Costa perfectly to adapt to the new challenge, and assisted by the creative genius of Fàbregas he looks to have tuned in to the English defensive style, allowing him to read not only attacking movement but predict that of the defenders. Costa doesn’t rely on pace to stretch and carve a defence open, but instead allows defenders to move around him as he constantly reads gaps and movements as in his third goals against Swansea. No real burst of pace, and in this instance not outmuscling of defenders, Costa simply waits for his man to move out of position before stepping in to space and scoring an easy finish. The best defenders probably won’t make those mistakes, and Costa will have to rely on the rest of his game to get goals.
We’ve already seen that this new boy at Stamford Bridge has the strength to overcome defenders and make himself a real threat from set pieces which allows him to engineer space and opportunities in the box when defenders are less willing to give it up – his header before half-time last weekend is a solid example here. Costa doesn’t need to beat his man in the air, he can simply read the ball and rely on his strength and positioning to reach the ball before exhibiting solid skills when heading the ball home.
Strikers are always full of ifs and buts, and it’s notoriously difficult to predict form so early in the season, but Diego Costa looks to be the antidote to the Fernando Torres problem at Chelsea. If he can remain healthy then he should thrive in the Premier League. His already near-complete skillset will only be improved as he continues to adapt to his new domestic league.
Barçelona deemed Alexis Sánchez surplus to requirements. Remember that as we take a look at his performance so far. We’re looking at a different type of player to Costa, a more creative forward who can play on his own upfront, or as seems more likely with the addition of Danny Welbeck to the Arsenal ranks, behind a lead striker as part of a wide attacking midfield unit.
Under Arsène Wenger, Sánchez has been given freedom to roam in that midfield area, switching roles with his team mates to frustrate defensive players and force Manuel Pellegrini to moan in front of the cameras. While forwards often struggle to find room in the Premier League, facing tight-knit centre-halves who generally co-ordinate better in England than on the continent, those who drop into the attacking midfield roles as Sánchez is capable find the opposite. Space can be abundant between midfield and defence, and fast, technically-gifted players like Sánchez are perfectly suited to exploiting that space and piling pressure on defences.
When gifted with space, players with the sheer pace of Alexis Sánchez will have a field day charging at defenders – and his goals and assists in La Liga (39 and 25 in 88 appearances) demonstrate that Sanchez is going to be a threat all over the attacking areas of the pitch. In some ways his emergence into the league is reminiscent of David Silva’s arrival: explosively quick and technically sublime, both players are equipped to punish a defence that doesn’t close them down. That comparison ends with the strength of Sánchez, though, as his ability to hold off his man will often buy time and space to operate in the central positions as well as flashing his pace on the wings.
While Sánchez has clearly demonstrated his ability to hold off or beat a man, he has so far looked a little weak in terms of actually creating chances for his teammates.
While Sánchez has clearly demonstrated his ability to hold off or beat a man (or two, or three), he has so far looked a little weak in terms of actually creating chances for his teammates. The best playmakers in the world can put the ball on a plate for the striker affiliates, with balls cut back from the byeline or incisive passes that open up running lanes for surging forwards. This is something that Sánchez has so far failed to produce for Arsenal. Those assist stats from La Liga don’t lie, and we shouldn’t doubt that Sánchez will settle comfortably into the league as he did at Barçelona in time. But to play the role of creative winger he’ll need to improve his ability to find an open man once he’s beaten his own. Once that box is ticked, Arsenal are likely to have one of the finest, fastest and most threatening wingers in the Premier League.
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