MADRID: Diego Costa will walk out for his eighth Madrid derby on Sunday, four years since his last at the Santiago Bernabeu when he scored Atletico’s winner.
Gareth Bale was making his home debut for Real that day back in September 2013, in the same week that Spain requested approval to snatch Costa from the clutches of Brazil and call him up to the national squad.
As he celebrated, Real’s fans chanted “Costa – he is not Spanish”.
All the more striking then that Costa’s shot, guided past Diego Lopez and inside the far right-hand post, still remains his only goal against Real, and the 1-0 win his sole triumph against Atletico’s fiercest rivals.
His record heading into this weekend’s derby reads played seven, won one, scored one.
If Costa is looking for positive omens, however, he might draw a parallel between his initiation with Spain in 2013 and the completion of his renaissance with the national team last week.
After spending the first five months of this season exiled by Chelsea, Costa is back in favor with Julen Lopetegui and back in form, for club and country.
His goal in Spain’s 6-1 win over Argentina has thrust him into pole position to start up front at this summer’s World Cup, while his opposites-attract partnership with Antoine Griezmann has been the driving force behind Atletico’s march into second place.
That position, however, is what is at stake this weekend, with both sides now too far adrift to catch runaway leaders Barcelona and neither in any danger of slipping out of the Champions League spots.
Atletico own the four-point advantage but Real have the momentum, having won 11 out of their last 12, a streak that includes two wins over Paris Saint-Germain and Tuesday’s thumping of Juventus.
Cristiano Ronaldo was the star in Turin, his spectacular bicycle kick continuing the Portuguese’s astonishing goal flurry this year. He has scored 23 times in 14 games, and at least once in all of his last nine.