TERRACE TALK: Chelsea - Reformed Costa all bite and less bark

Where to start? First, I need to thank Arsenal. Yes, you heard that right. If it wasn’t for that loss at the Emirates, I don’t think Conte would have brought his revolution forward and decided there and then to change the way we play.

It was the key moment of the season – it convinced Conte that there was no point in an extended settling-in period. He had seen enough.

It was still a brave move and it’s only with hindsight that we can say it was exactly the right thing to do.

I still went to the Ethiad with some trepidation though. 

Despite everything we have seen in recent matches, I didn’t think we could win up there and most of those I spoke to before the game would have taken the draw in a heartbeat.

The City fans were uber-confident before the game and didn’t take the loss well – it was all the referee’s fault apparently, and Luiz should have been sent off, and they should have had two penalties.

Nothing to do with De Bruyne missing an open goal or Aguero failing to take his chances.

Still, you don’t have to look far to see where this sense of entitlement comes from – Pep Guardiola.

His ironic clapping of the referee was totally unnecessary (let’s see if he gets fined for sarcasm as Mourinho did), his petulance at ignoring the hands of many of the Chelsea players at the end of the match and his refusal to acknowledge the intent in Aguero’s disgraceful challenge show him for what he really is.

The City team totally losing the plot near the end of the game was priceless – pure frustration – and if we can drive a team packed with such talent to behaving like that, then we have them running scared.

Aguero, brilliant though he is, has a dark and violent edge which is rarely talked about by the media, whereas Costa, who is little more than a pantomime villain, has officially been classified as some sort of footballing nutjob.

Aguero’s ‘tackle’ on Luiz was not simply a ‘strong challenge’ Pep, it was a pre-meditated, cowardly assault. And he has previous form – the last two-footed challenge on David Luiz was equally horrendous and went unpunished and could have finished his career.

At least this time he got the red card he deserved, but had that been Costa I’m sure the government would be discussing the reintroduction of capital punishment by now.

But let’s turn our eyes away from the ugly and focus on the sublime. Costa has been a revelation this season. 

He is fitter, happier and virtually unplayable. He tormented City. His strength allowed him to just shrug off challenges and you could see the determination in every movement – his focus was on goal – nothing else. 

Has this turnaround been brought about by Conte? Possibly, in part, but our Diego does seem to be a changed man since he’s got himself a four-legged friend. Bella the dog seems to have reformed him. 

He looks like someone who wants to play football without ripping someone’s head off – someone who seems to finally be settling in London rather than pining for Madrid. I hope the club have organised Bella her own bodyguard.

Then there’s Hazard – back to skipping, dancing around the pitch causing consternation and fury amongst the opposition. So much so that City simply resorted to the black arts to try and stop him.

And we can’t leave out Luiz – this week’s word for Luiz is ‘majestic’. 

For years, I have bemoaned the lack of a really serious contender to take over from John Terry as captain – well, since his stint in France, the Brazilian has come back a polished gem and he is beginning to look like captain material.

I can’t leave out Kante – quietly gets on with his job without any fuss or fanfare. There’s a reason that Leicester are a shadow of the team they were last season and that’s because their heart now plays number seven for Chelsea.

What we need now is for Conte to ensure these players do not become complacent. 

He should nail the press clippings from the Swansea game on the dressing room door and do what he can to persuade Fabregas to stay – we need that kind of strength-in-depth. 

There is still a long way to go in this campaign and it’s still all a bit close but we have as good a chance as anyone.

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