Diego Costa back to best but he still finds way to agitate Hiddink

Striker’s yellow card against Watford rules him out of game at Old Trafford

Diego Costa receives his fifth yellow card of the season against Watford. Photograph: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Diego Costa receives his fifth yellow card of the season against Watford. Photograph: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

 

Guus Hiddink’s second spell as interim steward has barely extended beyond a week and, already, he is nursing a headache induced by Diego Costa.

Chelsea benefited from the Spain forward at his best on Saturday, all the rampaging power and presence that had originally marked him out as exceptional restored to his game. And yet one needless late lunge, and the resultant fifth yellow card of term, has denied the champions their principal striker at Manchester United today.

The Dutchman described it as “a setback”. Privately, he must be exasperated. Such is life with Costa, a player whose aggressive style of play forever carries risk of sanction. This club had been waiting for months to glimpse the 27-year-old who had run riot at the start of last term and, having finally resurfaced, he has been lost again just when he was needed most.

José Mourinho might have warned his stand-in successor to prepare a back-up plan, with Hiddink now left contemplating his options. There is too much doubt surrounding Radamel Falcao’s fitness to send him out against the club where he spent last season on loan. Efforts will surely be made to cancel that deal with Monaco next month.

Balloon

Eden Hazard, who was preferred up front when Costa was dropped four weeks ago, is only just back from a hip injury and remains without a club goal since May. His eager cameo against Watford here did at least eke out the late penalty, conceded by Valon Behrami’s wild challenge, only for Oscar to slip and balloon the spot-kick over the bar.

But Hazard departed complaining of discomfort in his leg yet again. “He is not top fit yet, but very fresh in his mind,” said Hiddink. “He’ll need training and games.”

That may suggest Loic Remy, a player rarely trusted by Mourinho, is most likely to deputise. His only Premier League start of the season came at Newcastle in late September. The clean slate spoken of by the new manager would particularly apply to his under-used Frenchman.

Hiddink suggested he had joined the club “in their desperate period”, but at least they will travel north with the pressure thrust, for once, on their opponents. United may be 10 points better off than the champions but their recent form is abject, the scrutiny all on the hosts and their beleaguered manager, Louis van Gaal.

Chelsea, encouraged by their show of character to recover a deficit against Watford, will consider this an appropriately grand stage upon which to demonstrate their own campaign is on the up.

Impressive

As for Watford, this was another hugely impressive display, Quique Sánchez Flores’s wonderfully drilled side recovering from Costa’s initial reward to force themselves ahead through Troy Deeney’s penalty and Odion Ighalo’s 13th league goal of the season.

Costa restored parity before the end but, even with the penalty conceded late on, a fifth game without defeat was the least the visitors merited. They were energetic, awkward and a regular threat. If they beat Tottenham Hotspur today they will be level on points with Mauricio Pochettino’s side at the end of a year of staggering progress.

That fixture has particular relevance to Etienne Capoue, outstanding alongside Ben Watson at the heart of Watford’s midfield but, in 2013, one of the far from magnificent seven recruited by Tottenham in anticipation of Gareth Bale’s world record sale to Real Madrid. A paltry 19 Premier League starts in two years tells the story of Capoue’s Spurs career.

“I didn’t play enough to show my quality at Spurs so that’s why I came here and started at zero with a chance to enjoy and show what I can do on the pitch for Watford,” said the Frenchman. Guardian Service

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