After 7 Premier League fixtures, Chelsea find themselves sitting in 5th place, 9 points behind leaders Manchester City. On the face of it, this doesn’t seem optimal for last years champions. However, in their run of games so far, they have already played two top four clubs already. As a result, despite the fact they have 3 points fewer than they did at the same point last year, they will still be feeling fairly positive about their season so far.
Chelsea’s early form was prompted by Alvaro Morata’s performances. His runs at goal, combined with his aerial threat, has paid dividends, scoring 6 of Chelsea’s 12 Premier League goals, assisting two others.
However, with Morata retiring early with a hamstring injury in their match against Manchester City, Chelsea have since struggled to retain the sort of early successes in the league that the Spaniard orchestrated. With Morata out, Chelsea have now lost two games in a row – an acceptable loss to league leaders Manchester City followed by a less forgiveable loss to previously goalless Crystal Palace.
This poor run has coincided with a horrible run of fixtures for the London club: in the next few weeks they face AS Roma twice in the Champions’ League which is quickly followed by a tricky home fixture against Manchester United on November 5th.
The question becomes: how does Antonio Conte’s Chelsea cope without Morata?
Linked with several transfers and loans in the summer, an impressive pre-season landed Michy Batshuayi the striker role with Morata short on match fitness as the season begun. However, his performance in Chelsea’s opening fixture at home to Burnley was flat, the Belgian producing only one shot at goal before making way at the hour mark for Morata who went on to score. Despite his team evenutally losing that match 3-2, Morata quickly became first choice. As a result, Batshuayi’s chances became limited.
In Morata’s absence, Antonio Conte has continued the Michy Batshuayi experiment. The youngster was back leading Chelsea’s line at Selhurst Park at the weekend but failed to capitalise from his teammates injury. In the event, Batshuayi’s lack of movement off the ball was conspicuous. Several long balls floated into the danger area by Cesar Azpilicueta and Cesc Fabregas found the forward out of position. By contrast, Alvaro Morata had been scoring similar chances routinely.
Already this season, Conte has praised the way that Morata’s predatory runs help his team to create chances. Chelsea’s ballplayers thrive on this instinct and it is clear that they are less effective with the more static Batshuayi up front. Against Palace, Conte had seen enough after 57 minutes and hauled him off.
With Antonio Conte clearly distrustful of Michy Batshuayi, the Italian has also tried to play without a striker, employing Willian or Eden Hazard as false forwards in a bid to score goals. This was the approach that Conte took in the game against Manchester City after Morata went off injured, bringing on Willian as his replacement despite having Batshuayi available on the bench.This alternative offered little sign of success though and Chelsea only managed to have four shots in total, two of which found the target.
In the course of the game against City, it became abundantly clear that, for all their fantastic qualities, players like Hazard and Willian are reliant upon the lone striker to create space for them to move into. In the absence of this, they struggle to break through the lines, unable to cope with the increased physicality that playing directly against a central defender brings. If Alvaro Morata is not back soon, it’s hard to see this sort of approach working in the long run.
The Need for a Plan B
Although Alvaro Morata is thought to be close to returning to full fitness, Antonio Conte will be unhappy at how fragile his side are without him. With Morata already picking up an injury in the few games in the Premier League that have passed so far, it is unlikely that he will remain injury-free for the rest of the season.
As a result, Conte should already be putting plans in place for a Plan B should he lose his star striker again. If he fails to do this, Chelsea could be hard-pressed to finish in the top four at the end of this Premier League season.
How should Chelsea go about developing a Plan B if Alvaro Morata is injured again? Let us know in the comments below.
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