Spain coach Julen Lopetegui is hopeful Diego Costa will be a big hit when he returns to play for Atletico Madrid in the New Year.
Costa has not played a competitive game since starting for Spain on June 11 in a World Cup qualifier against Macedonia. and missed the national team’s final four qualifiers after a dispute with his then club Chelsea.
The Brazil-born striker resolved his future by returning to his former club, Atletico, in September but cannot be registered until the transfer window opens next week due to a transfer embargo imposed on the Rojiblancos by FIFA.
“Diego is a player who whenever he has played and done well, he has always been with us,” Lopetegui told Movistar +.”He is one of those players who is in our radar. The next six months will be fantastically good for him, for his team and if he is in good condition, he will be with us.”
Costa scored 58 goals in 120 games in his three seasons at Chelsea, winning two Premier League titles and one League Cup.
The 29-year-old has reportedly lost 10 kilograms and is in top condition after gruelling training sessions with Atletico. He is expected to feature when the Rojiblancos play away to Lleida in a Copa del Rey round-of-16 encounter on Jan. 3.
Costa and Chelsea’s Alvaro Morata finished as Spain’s top scorers in World Cup qualifying with five goals apiece.
Morata has scored 10 goals and set up four more in 17 league appearances since joining Chelsea from Real Madrid this past summer, and Lopetegui believes Morata can get better.
“The demands of being in a new club [Chelsea] and playing in a new role forces him to continue to improve as a player and be more complete,” Lopetegui said of the 25-year-old forward. “That’s good for him, for his team and for the national team.”
Spain qualified for the World Cup by winning nine and drawing one of their 10 group games while scoring 36 goals and giving away just three.
They will take on Portugal, Iran and Morocco in Group B in next year’s tournament in Russia.
Adriana Garcia is a Valencia-based football writer who covers La Liga for ESPN FC.