Diego Costa was “Chelsea’s Didier Drogba or Zlatan Ibrahimovic”, says Ken Monkou, who believes their struggles this season are down to parting with a talismanic presence.
The Spain international striker netted 20 times for the Blues in 2016-17 as they swept to the Premier League title – the second time in the space of three years that he and the club had achieved such a feat.
Antonio Conte was, however, to take the decision to head in a different direction last summer, with Costa frozen out before eventually sealing a return to Atletico Madrid.
Chelsea have failed to find a striking spark in his absence, with Alvaro Morata yet to fill sizeable boots at Stamford Bridge, and former Blues defender Monkou believes the club are paying the price for sanctioning the sale of a man who offered much more than a goal threat to the collective cause.
The Dutchman, who spent three years in west London between 1989 and 1992, told the Daily Mirror: “In any team you need a figurehead – a player who leads you in battle and creates problems for the opposition, and Costa was that player for Chelsea.
“He was Chelsea’s Didier Drogba or Zlatan Ibrahimovic – a player with a presence, charisma and aura around him on the pitch.
“Costa, Drogba and Ibra are players that set themselves apart because of their stature. And if you have someone like that in your team you are already one up against the opposition.
“Of course Chelsea have Eden Hazard, Willian, N’Golo Kante and Pedro, who are all top quality players. But in someone like Diego Costa you have a player who is an unknown quantity.
“Simply by being in the team his sheer presence will be a problem for opponents. When he played, Costa deflected attention away from team-mates like Hazard and Willian.
“He often occupied two or three players because you simply couldn’t take the risk of leaving him alone.
“Having someone like that leading the attack is a huge boost for the rest of the players and since he left to go back to Atletico Madrid, Chelsea haven’t had that kind of figurehead – and they have missed him.
“Alvaro Morata has come in and I do like him as a player. He’s got plenty of qualities, especially in the air where he is very strong. But Morata doesn’t have that same air of menace this season that Costa gave Chelsea... they haven’t carried the same threat without him.”
An alarming dip on the back of a title triumph may lead to further changes at Stamford Bridge this summer, with speculation continuing to suggest that Conte’s days are numbered.
MORE: Chelsea are not above the Europa League, says Antonio Conte | Morata, David Luiz & the Chelsea stars in danger of missing the World Cup | 'Chelsea players got Mourinho sacked, now they are after Conte' - Leboeuf | 'Chelsea in danger of becoming another Arsenal' - Blues on slippery slope, warns Merson
Monkou added on a revolving door policy was has seen the Blues have 10 managers in the last decade: “Maybe this time Chelsea will have to go back to the drawing board and look again at what they are trying to achieve and what they want.
“Changing the manager regularly usually creates instability and uncertainty but in Chelsea’s case they have been successful doing it winning three League titles, the Champions League, Europa League, three FA Cups and a League Cup in the last 10 years.”