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Costa yet to deliver in return to Atletico Madrid

April 11, 2019
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Barcelona's Gerard Pique, right, talks to Atletico forward Diego Costa as he tries to calm him after he was sent off with a red card for insulting referee Jesus Gil Manzano during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between FC Barcelona and Atletico Madrid at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Saturday April 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

MADRID (AP) — Diego Costa was so furious that it was hard to keep him away from the referee.

His teammates tried to contain him. Even his opponents had to intervene.

Costa was shown a red card in the 28th minute of a 2-0 loss against Barcelona on Saturday that practically ended Atletico Madrid’s hopes of challenging for the Spanish league title. The card also prompted an eight-game suspension that is likely to end Costa’s season.

The hot-headed reaction was expected from Costa, the vigorous striker who always leaves everything he has on the field.

But what hasn’t been expected from Costa since he rejoined Atletico is his lack of scoring and his poor performances.

The Spanish forward hasn’t fully met expectations after his much-anticipated return to the club where he thrived in the early 2010s, seeing more cards and enduring more injuries than scoring goals.

“It’s obvious that the numbers have not been what we expected from Diego,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said. “But I’m certain that he will keep contributing a lot to this team in the future.”

There were high hopes when Atletico went out of its way to acquire Costa from Chelsea in 2017, even though it knew he wouldn’t be able to play for a few months because FIFA had banned it from registering new players. In his previous stint with Atletico, from 2012-14, Costa scored 56 goals and helped the club win the Spanish league and the Copa del Rey and reach the Champions League final.

Now, Costa has scored only 12 goals in 44 appearances since rejoining the club in January 2018.

Three of Costa’s goals were extremely important for Atletico, putting the club in position to win two titles. He scored twice in a 4-2 win over Real Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup final last year and had the winner over Arsenal in the semifinals of the Europa League last season.

“Every time he has played with us, he has done important things,” Simeone said. “It’s not a coincidence that after his return we were able to win the Europa League and the European Super Cup, and finished second in the Spanish league.”

Costa’s contributions have been sporadic, though, and his inconsistency can be linked in great part to a series of injuries. He has missed nearly 30 games because of varied problems, including foot surgery in December that kept him sidelined for more than two months.

Simeone said a good preseason will be key for Costa to avoid future injuries and play up to his potential next season.

Avoiding suspensions also will be important.

Costa was handed an eight-game ban for the red card at Barcelona on Saturday, when he allegedly insulted referee Jesus Gil Manzano and grabbed his arm while complaining. After Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak forcibly pushed Costa away from the referee, it was Barcelona defender Gerard Pique who had to escort Costa from the field.

Atletico can appeal Thursday’s ruling against Costa, but it will end his season if it stands as the club has only seven matches left in the Spanish league.

Costa was red-carded in his second match with Atletico after joining from Chelsea, and one of the 16 yellow cards he has received since returning kept him from playing against Juventus in the second leg of the Champions League round of 16, when Atletico squandered a 2-0 first-leg win and was eliminated.

Costa’s struggles have already ignited talks of a possible transfer, and there is reportedly a multimillion-dollar offer from China on the table.

But even though Atletico worked hard to keep Antoine Griezmann and recently signed Alvaro Morata, Simeone said he is far from giving up on Costa.

“I want him to stay,” Simeone said. “I’m with him until the end and I hope that he stays with us next season.”

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