National Team

Gabriel Costa boosts case for Peru call-up in win over Alianza Lima

Featured Image: Movistar Deportes

It’s time to stop avoiding the subject. Gabriel Costa should receive a Peru call-up from Ricardo Gareca.

With Gareca in attendance at Matute, Costa scored and assisted twice to help Sporting Cristal crush Alianza Lima 4-1 in the first leg of the Descentralizado final. Yes, Alianza certainly peppered Patricio Álvarez’s goal for the majority of the 90 minutes, yet there was no denying Costa was the man of the match.

This was just the latest in a long line of decisive performances from Costa in a Cristal shirt this season. The Uruguayan-born forward has 25 goals and 18 assists, which are mind-boggling numbers. Not since 2014, when he debuted in Peru with Alianza, has Costa enjoyed this prolific of a campaign.

It was fitting that Gareca was in attendance in Matute to witness another man-of-the-match display because Costa is eligible to represent the Peruvian national team in January.

Some might be hesitant to see Costa in the Blanquirroja shirt, but they should be open to the idea. André Carrillo has been inconsistent at best since the World Cup and is facing inferior competition in Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, Andy Polo’s club situation is up in the air. Costa would be a wonderful alternative, especially with the form he’s shown under Salas in 2018.

The major concern surrounding Costa is whether he will regress. When examining his combined expected goals (xG) and expected assists (xA), those numbers argue against that rhetoric.

Costa had an xG of 19.07, or 0.45 xG per 90 minutes, which is a very solid return for a wide forward. For a comparison, Carlos Neumann – the second leading scorer in the Descentralizado this season – generated 0.49 xG per 90 minutes.

While it’s true that Costa is outperforming his actual output of 25 goals, it also points to his clinical finishing. Plus, even if he was in line with his xG, 19 goals is still an impressive total across the season.

The xA is even more encouraging. It’s worth noting that some programs and applications credit Costa with anywhere from 13-to-16 assists in his 42 appearances, yet he still has 16.96 xA with 0.40 xA per 90 minutes. He’s actually underperforming those xA numbers (per Wyscout, who credits Costa with 13 assists), likely due to wasteful finishing from his teammates.

The underlying numbers are great, and the eye test is even better. Costa is a right winger who is not afraid to cut inside, which might benefit Peru in matches where they have to break down a more conservative opponent.

Costa’s heat map during the 2018 season. (via Wyscout)

Because Costa likes to drift into central positions, he tends to shoot more often than the average winger. The 28-year-old has registered 119 attempts this season and owns a higher shots-per-90 ratio (2.73) than Carrillo (1.13) and Polo (1.39).

Costa’s dribbling and vision are clearly evident as well. There are sequences of play that seem inconceivable.

The incisiveness, decision-making and first touch is sublime, which leads to some brilliant combinations. As a result, Costa is often one or two seconds ahead of the defenders.

Watching those clips, it’s no surprise that Costa ranks third in the Descentralizado this season in total dribbles with 313.

With a few more friendlies scheduled in 2019, it would behoove Gareca to include Costa in those squads. At 28 years of age, he can help Peru compete in the next two Copa América tournaments in 2019 and 2020, not to mention the World Cup qualifiers.

Some Peruvians view the Descentralizado as an inferior competition and that Costa’s shortcomings will be discovered on the international stage. Even if that were true, it can’t hurt to try. Players often reach their potential at a later age, and if anything, it’s good to reward those who are in form.

Hopefully Costa receives his justified compensation in 2019.

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