Pitchside Europe

Liverpool target Diego Costa hunting down Messi and Barcelona

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While Lionel Messi has, as usual, been hogging the headlines in the early weeks of the La Liga season, another South American, Atletico Madrid's Diego Costa, has hit a rich vein of form to join the Argentine on seven goals at the top of the scoring charts.

Combative Brazil forward Costa has started the campaign with a bang, easing into the gap left by departed striker Radamel Falcao, and his performances have helped Diego Simeone's side match Messi's Barcelona with a perfect six wins from their opening six games.

The 24-year-old netted a double in Tuesday's 2-1 home win over Osasuna, prompting former Argentina captain Simeone to say Costa had the talent to go as far as he wanted.

Simeone's commitment and aggressive playing style as a midfielder for clubs including Atletico, Sevilla, Inter Milan and Lazio -- he was said to play "with a knife between his teeth" -- appears to have rubbed off on his prolific pupil.

Costa is tall and powerful in the air, has excellent touch and vision, and is always a handful for opposition defences, who find it tough to cope with his physical approach and constant harrying that sometimes pushes the boundaries of fair play.

His first clubs in Europe were in Portugal and he moved to Atletico from Braga in 2007 before passing through Celta Vigo, Albacete, Real Valladolid and Rayo Vallecano, where he scored 10 goals in 16 La Liga appearances in 2011-12.

Last season, he was instrumental in Atletico's triumphant King's Cup campaign, scoring his eighth goal in eight appearances in the 2-1 success against bitter city rivals Real Madrid in the final.

"He is a young player who has been developing since he returned (to Atletico)," Simeone told a news conference after Tuesday's victory. "He has earned everything he has himself and for me he still has a lot of things to improve.

"Hopefully this is what he wants because he is ambitious, intelligent and I hope he continues growing."

Costa has reportedly attracted attention from several European clubs, including Liverpool, but last month agreed a three-year contract extension with Atletico to 2018.

He has made a couple of friendly appearances for Brazil but his performances in La Liga have led to speculation he might be called up by Spain coach Vicente del Bosque as he also holds a Spanish passport.

One of Spain's most promising midfielders, Koke, has developed a lethal partnership with Costa at Atletico and it was his cross that Costa powered home with a header for his second goal on Tuesday.

"They understand each other with a simple look," Simeone said. "When Koke gets the ball Costa is already preparing himself and they click.

"They mesh perfectly and with luck this connection will last a long time."

Costa has a big stage to show off his talents on Saturday when Atletico play Real at the Bernabeu in La Liga, their first meeting since last season's Cup final.

Reuters

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