How important is Diego Costa for Atletico Madrid?


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In isolation, the image of a sobbing Diego Costa, injured and substituted early on in La Liga's crunch game at the Nou Camp last weekend, was enough to draw emotion from even the most staunch of Real Madrid fans.

However, in the context of their domestic triumph and this weekend's Champions League final, fans of Los Blancos won't believe their luck that their rival's talisman could well be absent this weekend. He has returned to training, but it is not clear if he will even feature in the final, let alone start it.

But just how big a loss is the controversial forward? Atlético went on to pick up the point they needed from that match to be crowned champions of Spain despite playing for 74 minutes without their top scorer. They still matched their opponents and played their usual way, allowing Barcelona to dominate possession, stifling attacks when their opponents got forward and looking to hit them on the break or at set pieces.

In fact, while Atleti have indeed relied on Costa for goals - he accounted for 35.1% of his team's league goals this season - they have coped surprisingly well with his intermittent absence throughout the campaign. Diego Simeone's men have a record that reads WWDWWWLWWD without their main centre forward this season. That's 7 wins from 10 games when he is missing from the starting lineup. And he hasn't merely been rested in their easier matches; those results include wins over Zenit St Petersburg, Porto and Barcelona amongst others.

Of course, without a striker who scores goals and holds the ball up like Costa, Atlético are always going to be weakened, but they have a mentality in the squad that means others step up when need be. Simeone has has players fantastically well-drilled to implement his game plan - which has clearly worked to near-perfection this season - and his men up their games when Costa is missing.

In fact, Arda Turan, Tiago, Raúl Garcia, Filipe Luis and David Villa, to name but 5 players, all have significantly higher WhoScored ratings in games without Diego Costa in the starting lineup compared to when he does play. It is only natural that they will be more involved in the offensive side of the game when Costa, usually the point of their attacks, is absent, but that results have been so good in those matches shows the collective effort the team make.

Putting aside the two losses to Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey this season (Atlético fielded a weakened side in both legs), they have done well recently against their rivals.

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A 2-2 draw in March was nearly a win but for a late Cristiano Ronaldo equaliser, while they won 1-0 at the Bernabeu back in September, though it is worth noting it was a certain Diego Costa that grabbed the winner that day.

He has been a handful for Pepe and Sergio Ramos each time they have come up against each other, and Atlético will undoubtedly be depleted without him, but as the underdogs for this weekend's final have proven time and again this season, they can manage without their talismanic forward and remain a force to reckoned with.

As a Barcelona side who could not wrench the Liga trophy from their grasp last week would attest, Atlético should not be written off even without Diego Costa playing.

All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com, where you can find yet more stats, including live in-game data and unique player and team ratings.

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