Mourinho stresses role of Costa

Star Spanish forward will lead the line against Sporting Lisbon tonight

Diego Costa at a Chelsea training session in Cobham, England, yesterday. Photograph: Christopher Lee/Getty Images

Diego Costa at a Chelsea training session in Cobham, England, yesterday. Photograph: Christopher Lee/Getty Images

 

Jose Mourinho has made clear Chelsea’s heavy reliance on Diego Costa by admitting his team are “made to play”with the striker leading the line. The forward will start against Sporting Lisbon on Tuesday despite the manager admitting that constitutes a risk given the player’s recent hamstring problems, with the club resigned to losing him to Spain next week.

The manager’s options are limited in Lisbon by the absence of Didier Drogba, the striker having aggravated an ankle injury in training and facing a fortnight on the sidelines, though Costa’s importance to the side becomes clearer with each passing week. The striker has been hampered by tightness in a thigh over the past month and has not been risked from the start in midweek games when he had featured the previous weekend as Chelsea sought to nurse him through his hamstring issues.

The injury had been acknowledged by Spain this month when they released the 25-year-old from the national squad for their opening Euro 2016 qualifier against Macedonia after he complained of discomfort following a friendly defeat by France. Costa was subsequently a substitute for his club’s opening Champions League group game, against Schalke, just four days after scoring a hat-trick against Swansea.

Yet he scored his eighth Premier League goal in six appearances against Aston Villa on Saturday, retiring from the fray nine minutes from time with the hosts 3-0 up, and will start at the Est?dio Jose Alvalade, with Mourinho expecting to losing him for the qualifiers against Slovakia and Luxembourg when he would prefer the GBP32m forward to have been granted two weeks’ rest.

“Diego starts,”said the Chelsea manager. “I have the feeling that, next week, he goes to the national team. And I have the feeling that, with the national team, they will make no consideration for the fact he’s in trouble. So, in Lisbon, he plays. And, hopefully, he plays Sunday again against Arsenal. There is a risk, yes. But we accept that risk, he plays and, hopefully, everything goes well. Then we hope, from Tuesday to Sunday, he has enough time to be back on track again and play against Arsenal.

“In this moment, if Diego can play, I play Diego. The team had a pre-season with him. The team have worked with him a lot of times. He’s played with us every match in the Premier League so far. So the team, at this moment, is more made to play with Diego. Loic Remy’s learning how to play with us - his movement is good, his pace is good, he can get behind defenders and he is not bad in the air - but I would prefer to play Diego.”

Costa had trained at Cobham on Monday morning before the squad departed for Portugal, with Remy the only other forward in the travelling party. Although Mourinho retains faith in the France international it is clear who is first choice. Other than a 16-minute cameo against Schalke a fortnight ago, the GBP8.5m signing from Queens Park Rangers has not featured at this level since 2012. “I’m going to start with the team I think is the best team,”Mourinho said. “That gives me also some players on the bench with quality to help me change the way the game is going, if needed. This is a difficult match for us, so I can’t think about Arsenal. I think only about Sporting.”

Mourinho expects an awkward match back home in Lisbon. He was born and grew up in Set?bal, a little under 20 miles south of the Portugal’s capital, and, after a spell as assistant manager at Estrela da Amadora and a period as a scout at Ovarense, he was appointed as Sir Bobby Robson’s interpreter at Sporting in 1992. He worked for 18 months at the club before following the former England manager to Porto. “That was a fantastic time until the moment they sacked Mr Robson,”he said. “It gives me a sense of pride. I was all I could be at this club. I tried to help the team the best way I could, at the beginning of my career. There is no grudge, no sense of ill-feeling at how I left. It’s been a long time since I faced a Portuguese team, so it is a great joy to return.

“Sporting were in economic crisis for a while and, because of that, it was out of Champions League for a while. Now they are back fighting for domestic titles again and every Portuguese, whether they are a fan of this club or not, is pleased to see them back. Now their first home match back in the Champions League is against Chelsea: a team managed by a Portuguese coach. I think for them it’s a super motivation.”

It is eight years since Mourinho confronted Portuguese opposition, though in six meetings with Sporting as manager of Benfica, Leiria and Porto, he has never lost to these opponents. Yet the hosts are unbeaten in 16 European games at the Alvalade - only three of them draws - stretching back to 2010, and intent upon making a grand return to the competition after an absence of five years.

Marco Silva’s side have drawn too many games this season, leaving them slightly off the pace in the Primeira Liga despite emerging with encouraging points from contests with Benfica and Porto, but boast a rejuvenated Nani, on loan from Manchester United for the season, who will pose a considerable threat. “Sporting have a player of great quality in the best years of his career,”Mourinho said. “Perhaps his aim is not to stay at Sporting until the end of his career, but to relaunch it and return to United. He must be very motivated in this new spell.” Guardian Service

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