Chelsea: What does Michy Batshuayi have to do to be good enough?
As the new season approaches, it looks like the Belgian will once again either be on the periphery at Chelsea or somewhere else on loan.
Michy Batshuayi has genuine reason to be annoyed about his current situation.
Signed as a 22-year-old after two strong seasons for Marseille in Ligue 1 — the same club as Didier Drogba incidentally — Batshuayi was tipped to be Chelsea’s next long-term centre forward. But since signing for the Blues two summers ago, Batshuayi has found playing time hard to come by.
Goals, however, haven’t been as hard to find in the few minutes he has been allowed to play. In league football over the previous two seasons, playing for Chelsea and Borussia Dortmund, Batshuayi has 14 goals in 1429 minutes, a rate of 0.88 per 90 minutes. In cup competitions, he added another 14 in 1441 minutes.
This raises the question: exactly what must Batshuayi do to be good enough for Chelsea?
On the periphery
It must be frustrating for the Belgian as he faces another season as a Chelsea rotation option.
After being relegated to third choice centre forward under Antonio Conte last January, Batshuayi flourished on loan at Borussia Dortmund, showing he could be a goalscorer as a regular starter in league football before his season was curtailed by injury.
Dortmund hoped to make the deal permanent during the summer but were put off by Chelsea’s asking price.
For Batshuayi, the loan was the only proper chance he’d had to play regular football. He suffered under Conte’s tenure as the Italian showed virtually no faith in him.
Not giving him playing time was one matter when Diego Costa was dominating defences every week but when Costa missed games, Conte usually preferred Eden Hazard as a centre forward. Things did not improve after Morata joined and subsequently suffered injury and form issues.
It wasn’t a shock when Chelsea went in for Giroud in the January window because Batshuayi clearly didn’t have the confidence of his manager.
A new beginning?
Perhaps the biggest problem for Batshuayi was the type of centre forward he is.
Conte favoured players who could hold the ball or up, and offer link up play. Batshuayi doesn’t have the physical prowess of Costa or Giroud, nor the technical talents of Hazard, so couldn’t offer his manager what he demanded in a centre forward.
Under Maurizio Sarri, however, things could turn around for him.
Batshuayi has traditional goalscorer strengths: movement and finishing. Sarri doesn’t rely on using the centre forward to help progress the ball up the pitch, instead focusing on build up from the back and midfield combinations, allowing the centre forward to focus on making off ball runs.
There are possible comparison to be made with Batshuayi and Dries Mertens. Mertens was a winger converted to centre forward. However, he was by no means a false nine, instead operating as a traditional striker and usually having the fewest touches of any Napoli player.
Back to square one
With Morata and Giroud still at the club, though, Batshuayi will once again likely be struggling for playing time at Chelsea. It is hardly surprising, then, that rumours have emerged suggesting he may be headed to Valencia, potentially on loan.
One begins to wonder just what Batshuayi can do to earn a genuine chance at Chelsea. It’s not like he’s behind two elite strikers in the pecking order and his performances, when given a chance over the last two seasons, have been good enough to warrant a run in the team.
The only aspect Batshuayi could take solace from is that, given Giroud turns 32 in September and his contract at Chelsea only runs till 2019, there’s a good chance the Frenchman won’t stay at the club beyond the coming season.
Maybe a final loan move for Batshuayi this season could leave him in the best place to fight for his place at Chelsea in 2019/20, three years after he joined the club as a 22-year-old from Marseille.
He has certainly shown in his limited minutes and from when he was at Marseille, that he can produce a good season for a club of Valencia’s stature.
He’ll be hoping he can use it to also prove he’s good enough to do the same at Chelsea.
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