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Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Chelsea must remain patient with next Diego Costa as Premier League reality becomes clear

  The comparison came early. Far too early perhaps. Yet it was understandable. The body movements felt so familiar. The unerring accuracy...

 

The comparison came early. Far too early perhaps. Yet it was understandable. The body movements felt so familiar. The unerring accuracy of the finishes too. Then came the matching of a Premier League record: Armando Broja, the first player to score in their opening four top-flight home starts since Chelsea's own Diego Costa.

That was back in December with the Albanian international at the peak of his confidence. At that point, nothing appeared capable of stopping the striker. Not the weight of expectation at loan club Southampton. Not the growing excitement of Chelsea supporters. Not even opposition defenders.

It's why Saints boss Ralph Hasenhuttl spoke publicly about his desire to keep Broja at St Mary's. Tentative talks were even held between the two sides in the January transfer winter window, although nothing came from them. The plan remained that the 20-year-old would see out the campaign, continue to score goals, and then a decision would be made over his future.

Unfortunately, the goals haven't continued to flow. Broja has scored just once since the beginning of March. His last Premier League strike, meanwhile, was at the start of February against Tottenham. It's resulted in the Albania international taking a step back; he's not started for Southampton in their past two matches.

“The interesting thing is that young players are not allowed to have, two three or four bad games because it is not understandable," Hasenhuttl said last week . “But it is understandable.

 After the big impact he made in the league, everybody knows him and everybody is taking care of him. It is much harder. I know this as a striker. If nobody knows you and nobody knows what your strengths are, then it is easier to compete.

“It is completely normal that there comes a moment when you have a little bit of a setback. The important thing is that he starts working hard again and fighting to be dangerous up front.

 At the moment when he plays, the number of chances is going down. He needs to invest a little bit more in some moment. Sometimes he must learn how to set his body. We have good examples of this in the team at the moment and they show this in an impressive way.

“It is good for young players to have situations like this, to go through these moments. This was the reason he came to us, to learn and to get better. It has been a very important first season for him.”


Broja has racked up more than 2,000 minutes this term, the majority of which have come in the Premier League. For that reason alone, his spell at St Mary's has been hugely positive. He has improved and developed his game and gained vital top-flight know-how. Even the tough patch he currently finds himself in should prove an important learning experience.

Eleven Premier League matches have passed since Broja struck against Spurs; his expected goals total in that period is just 1.5. That highlights two things: Southampton are not creating a plethora of high-value shooting opportunities when the Chelsea academy graduate is on the pitch and Broja no longer has the raw confidence to take the scraps that come his way.

"Broja is not what he was," said Hasenhuttl rather bluntly after Southampton's defeat at the weekend to Crystal Palace. It felt harsh to single out the youngster, but perhaps highlights the esteem the striker is held in on the south coast. Despite this being his debut Premier League season, there remains a view he should be scoring goals consistently. It's an unfair one.

As is the belief that Broja could return to Chelsea this summer and instantly establish himself as the club's first-choice striker. Let's not forget that supposed elite-level forwards have arrived at Stamford Bridge in the recent past and struggled to find the back of the net.

Broja is expected to return to Chelsea for pre- season – although things could quickly change under the club's new ownership. But beyond that, no plan is in place as to what the next step is for the striker. Conversations will need to take place between Broja, the Blues' hierarchy, and Thomas Tuchel.

What this season has showcased is Broja can score Premier League goals. Whether he is yet ready to do that at the frequency Chelsea require – and perform with the consistency of Costa, the man the academy graduate was compared to – is another matter entirely.

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