#360view: Conte & Costa can take EPL by storm

Sport360 staff 09:22 17/08/2016
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Antonio Conte and Diego Costa.

This was the moment Antonio Conte had been waiting for. A swing of Diego Costa’s right boot in the 89th minute lifted Stamford Bridge to its feet, gaining a roar of approval as the frenetic Italian saluted the salvaging of a debut Premier League victory.

Yet for the 47-year-old supremo, this juncture in Monday night’s 2-1 triumph against bitter rivals West Ham United was about far more than parochial point scoring.

It even transcended the surge of confidence and self-assuredness gained by a successful competitive bow on foreign soil, away from the familiar – and long-vanquished – foes of old from Serie A.

Something more permanent, more tangible had been forged in this frisson of emotion. Conte had discovered the most vital component of any newly-installed manager’s armoury.

Presented in front of him was the conduit on the pitch necessary for success. More vital than one-man midfield N’Golo Kante, so diligent at the base of the freshly-installed 4-1-4-1 formation, and more vivid than revitalised Belgium winger Eden Hazard. The menacing striker from Brazil mirrored the mixture of commitment, excellence and passion which emanated from the touchline.

Conte would not have approved of the reckless challenge on Hammers goalkeeper Adrian which evidenced why Costa is the Premier League’s resident villain. But similar wild actions have fuelled the greatest partnerships in the division’s history.

Roy Keane and Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United snarled their way to overbearing success in the first decade of the competition, their supremacy only consistently threatened by Arsene Wenger – far removed from the monolithic “specialist in failure” agonisingly still in situ today – and Arsenal general Patrick Vieira.

Mourinho was fortunate to call on two on-field lieutenants during his omnipotent opening period at the Blues from 2004-07, centre-back John Terry and centre midfielder Frank Lampard spectacularly repaying owner Roman Abramovich’s game changing largesse in trophies.

When locked in battle, no party gave an inch. In Conte and Costa, this legacy is set to continue.

The former has never attempted to constrain himself on the pitch or on the bench, most notably for Juventus and Italy.

Most recently, this approach took a limited Azzurri selection at Euro 2016 to the quarter-finals.

It also regenerated a Juve side ravaged by ‘calciopoli’ and delivered three-successive topflight crowns from 2011-14.

A rebuilding job, on an admittedly smaller scale, is required at Chelsea. Last term’s woeful title defence and 10th-placed finish cannot be repeated.

Costa was a poster boy of this degeneration. His debut return of 20 goals from 26 top-flight matches in 2014/15 seemed a distant memory as spiteful distraction saw him score just 12 times in 26 appearances.

Monday’s snapped effort from the edge of the area marked a restart and evidenced a predator whose senses are rehoned. His antics remained as he riled the West Ham defence and rocked their keeper, but he was now a talisman rather than tempestuous enfante terrible.

Rumours, admittedly quietening by the day, continue to reverberate about a desire for an exit. Atletico Madrid covet the man they sold for £32 million (Dh153m) in July 2014, while the tumultuous atmosphere at Napoli’s Stadio San Paolo would be the perfect hunting ground if interest about making him the frontline replacement for Gonzalo Higuain is made concrete.

Conte’s persistence in turning away all such overtures has now proved prescient.

A new double act is ready to conquer the Premier League.

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