Terrace Talk: Conte faces Costa conundrum as countdown begins

It’s probably a good thing you guys haven’t recently been privy to my fears, my neuroses, and the thoughts that currently haunt my dreams.

While other Chelsea fans have been enjoying the unexpected thrill of leading the Premier League for the majority of the season, I have been seeing only Tottenham Hotspur-shaped monsters in the shadows.

Stupidly I recently began to relax, only for the Crystal Palace game to plague me with new fits of doubt. And even the wins against City and Bournemouth did little to calm my nerves.

That we had beaten Mourinho’s United twice this season tolled a bell of doom for me. That would have hurt Mourinho — and a wounded Jose is always an animal to be very wary of.

So I was already troubled by this game, especially coming at such a pivotal point in the season. But then when I heard the news that Courtois was injured, I went into a total tailspin. Alonso’s withdrawal put me in full meltdown mode.

We don’t need to analyse the game — to a man we didn’t show up. Some may point to our old foe ‘complacency’ — I don’t think so. This wasn’t a game where we strode around the pitch, cocksure of ourselves and expecting the three points to magically fall into our laps. This was a Mourinho tactical masterclass.

That said, we were complicit in our own downfall. We have been winning games, but many by very narrow margins whereas Tottenham have been winning games at a canter and I do wonder about the mentality of our players.

Of course, football is all about goals — Kane seems unstoppable whereas Costa seems to have totally lost his way since the story linking him to China broke just a few months ago. Kane just needs to look at a ball and it seems to end up in the back of the net, whereas Costa seems to have reverted to his teenage problem child worst.

Many Chelsea fans believe that this state of affairs has been initiated by the player himself and want him gone. I think this is too simplistic and a tad unfair.

Firstly, playing as a lone striker is never easy — he is often heavily marked and his reputation ensures him a yellow card just for looking at an opposition player in a threatening manner.

Then there is the lack of competition. Consciously or sub-consciously, this will have a negative effect on a striker — he carries the weight of expectation of the club, his teammates, and the fans on his shoulders. And Costa does not strike me as the type to carry such a burden lightly.

He is also receiving very little to work with from the midfield.

As talented as they are, the partnership of Kante and Matic have other jobs to do; Alonso and Moses are probably playing to the best of their abilities but they usually provide very little for Costa. Then there is Hazard — an absolute maestro but also often marked closely and as likely to try and score himself as be a provider.

All of that said, I do wonder whether dropping Costa is a place we now find ourselves in to try and make that final push for the finishing line because at the moment, it does feel like we are playing with ten men.

I imagine most Chelsea fans will have stopped reading this by now — and I don’t blame you; I think this is the most downbeat article I have ever penned but I can’t help it.

I can only hope that I have under-estimated Conte and that he has a cunning plan tucked in that designer sleeve. I hope that five games from now, fellow Chelsea fans will be ripping me for having lost my bottle at the first sign of adversity.

It’s going to be a loooooooong six weeks.

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