Connect in the back of the net

It seems like the “kisses and cuddles” that Jose Mourinho shared with Diego Costa at half-time in Chelsea’s 0-4 win at Maccabi Tel Aviv last Tuesday evening weren’t enough to maintain the peace for too long.

The explanation offered by Mourinho to his angry exchange with his striker as they headed towards the changing room, caused by an apparent lack of movement from the Spaniard, wasn’t convincing and the subsequent dropping of Costa, a loss of “privilege” according to his manager, for the game against Tottenham exposed the weak pretence.

As he realised he would not get onto the field at White Hart Lane, Costa reacted by throwing his pink bib down from his dugout seat in a fit of petulance that will do little to endear himself to the manager already troubled with finding a way to arrest the striker’s slide in form that has seen him score just three times from 11 league games.

“We are happy with the decision” was Mourinho’s verdict on the deployment of Eden Hazard, by trade an attacking midfielder, at centre-forward for the goalless draw at Spurs, but the knowledge that he, or Costa’s understudies Radamel Falcao and Loic Remy, don’t carry the same clinical ruthlessness as the striker who hit 20 goals on the way to delivering Chelsea the Premier League title last term, will concern the Portuguese.

 

Linked with the struggling Blues

So then it is no surprise that, with the January transfer market looming, Chelsea have been linked with attacking reinforcements as they aim to arrest their nightmarish defence of their title.

Bayern Munich’s £75 million-rated Thomas Muller has been linked but possibly even more absurd are reports that Mourinho is apparently keen on Emmanuel Adebayor, who comes with buckets of Premier League experience and the bonus of no price-tag but has a record of fractious behaviour that makes Costa look conformant.

More likely to pitch up at Stamford Bridge in the new year is Nikola Kalinic, the Croatian striker who is third on Serie A’s current top-scorers with nine goals from 12 appearances for Fiorentina.

Paulo Sousa spent £3.85 million to sign him from Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk in the summer, a bargain considering the 19 goals he scored last season which included a header in the Europa League final with Sevilla in May, and has been rewarded with a sensational run of form that has fired La Viola up to third, two points behind league leaders Napoli, with a third of the season gone.

 

Resurgence

Kalinic, who finally found form in Ukraine with Dnipro after underwhelming in his first two seasons following two troubled years in England with Blackburn Rovers, signed a four year deal in Florence but his eligibility for the Champions League will be attractive to Chelsea and Mourinho.

With Khouma Babacar, on four goals from seven appearances so far, being eased into the Sousa era after knee problems curtailed his progress last term, and Giuseppe Rossi struggling to return to form after his own series of knee injuries, Kalinic has delivered the goals and with owner Andrea Della Valle pledging La Viola “won’t hold back” in the transfer market in the bid to remain at the top end of Serie A, it is hard to see them relinquishing the Croatian striker easily regardless of the money on offer.

Della Valle was speaking after a quick-fire second half double from Kalinic rescued a 2-2 draw against Empoli after Fiorentina had gone two goals down and, after also drawing with Sassuolo on Monday night, Sousa has warned that his team may be growing tired as they juggle domestic demands with the Europa League.

 

Reliance on the Croatian duo

There is also a feeling that in relying on Kalinic and his fellow Croatian Josip Ilicic, the midfielder who has chipped in with four, for goals, they are pinning their hopes on two overachieving attackers who have never previously been so prolific.

Borja Valero, who got Fiorentina’s goal at Sassuolo, joins the duo in the attacking trio that Sousa usually favours at the tip of his 3-4-2-1 system that operates on high possession, compact defensive shape and fluid player positioning.

Both Ilicic and Kalinic were on the scoresheet for their stand-out result so far this season, the 1-4 win at title rivals Inter Milan where Kalinic scored a hat-trick by feeding off direct balls that by-passed a sluggish midfield and exposed a vulnerable defence.

It was Kalinic latching onto a threaded pass in behind Inter’s back 4 that earned Miranda a red card, the Brazilian having to scythe the striker down to stop him scampering away for another goal.

 

Strengths

Instinctive finishes have converted crosses into the box at Sampdoria and Verona and at 6ft 2 inches tall he is proving himself to be a strong, effective presence in holding up the ball and linking together attacking moves.

He is most dangerous as a calm and composed operator in-front of goal however, with only Roma’s Edin Dzeko boasting a better shot accuracy rate than Kalinic’s 63% out of the strikers who have registered 30 shots or more in Serie A.

Against Empoli, the goals came via a header and a smart finish from a Babacar pass, while in the dying stages the Croatian could have nicked it but his effort struck the bar.

That would have put Fiorentina back on top of Serie A, where the 1-4 win at Inter in late September positioned them for the first time since 1998-99, but they remain in touching distance as they cling onto the dream of delivering a first Scudetto since 1969.

Kalinic continuing his rich vein of form will be vital to that dream and it could, given the lessons of the past, either fizzle out or be lost to another club.

 

Maybe he’s a gamble now, but could be impossible to resist in the near future

Chelsea may feel January is too early to gamble on Kalinic as the answer to Costa’s plight, but if he leads Fiorentina to glory then the demand for the born-again Croat may be impossible to resist.

 

Written by Adam Gray

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250

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