Chelsea head coach Antoinio Conte has challenged Diego Costa to hit 30 goals this season after offering a ringing endorsement of the striker’s talents.
Costa was influential in firing Chelsea to Premier League glory during the 2014-15 season but his faltering form last time around mirrored the Stamford Bridge outfit’s shambolic title defence.
Conte’s acquisition of Belgium forward Michy Batshuayi from Marseille and links with other strikers led to speculation that Costa’s days at the club were numbered.
But the Italian has involved the 27-year-old prominently during pre-season and wants to see Costa focused solely on being a dynamic penalty box presence as he seeks to restore Chelsea to the upper reaches of English football.
Asked whether Costa could hit 20 goals this season ahead of Monday’s opening Premier League match against West Ham, Conte playfully responded: “Why 20 and not 30?”
Although he added he does not like to give striker’s specific goal targets, the former Juventus and Italy boss believes Costa can become a scourge of top-flight defences once more.
“Diego is a forward and he knows that, in my idea of football, the forward must be a point of reference for the team,” Conte said. “I don’t like that a forward moves around the pitch. I like him to stay there [in the box] because you are a forward and your commitment is to score goals and to stay in the right position. You are a forward – not a midfielder, not a defender.
“I don’t like to speak about single players but I will make an exception. Diego is a great player. I know that he is a fantastic finisher but I think he can still improve a lot.
“I hope for this. I try to improve all of my players. Their past is not important to me and now, I am seeing a good attitude from Diego – to work and to improve in different situations.
“I am happy that Diego stays here to work with us. We know that we can improve through the work and the most important thing is that the players have put themselves into this idea.
“Diego can give a lot to this team and I am sure he will have a good season.”
Stamford Bridge will get its first viewing of Conte’s famously animated touchline persona when West Ham make the short trip across London and the Chelsea boss believes his passion for the game is an area of common ground with his main striker.
“Diego always shows a great passion and I am the same,” Conte added. “He doesn’t want to lose. I like this passion and I want to put it in the team.
“It’s important to have passion for your work, for your football. It can help you to get over difficulties. I like this commitment – that the players work very strongly for the team.
“I ask Diego for this and I demand this of him. I never ask [specific goal targets] of my strikers but I ask Diego and all the players to have a great attitude.
“Then, the goals arrive. I am sure of this. It’s important that the players play our football, not their own football.”