Less than three months ago, Chelsea were crowned Premier League champions for the fifth time.
In a miraculous turnaround from their slump to 10th the season before, Antonio Conte had managed to get the Blues back on top. Leading the line for Chelsea was Diego Costa, however, after failing out with Conte, Costa is no longer in the Italians plans and look unlikely ever to play for the Blues again.
A Costa-shaped hole
To replace him Chelsea have paid big money to bring in Alvaro Morata from Real Madrid. Conte also has Michy Batshuayi at his disposal, who cost the Champions £33m when they bought him last summer from Marseille.
Both strikers offer different assets, which has an effect on Chelsea’s style of play.
With Costa up top, Chelsea could look for the ball over the top with the striker willing to run in behind defenders, a pass Cesc Fabregas became superb at finding.
However, though Costa isn’t the most gifted technically, he could also play the job of a holdup man, drop deep to collect the ball, shield of opposing defenders and then bring the likes of Eden Hazard, Willian, Pedro or even N’Golo Kante into play.
Now Conte has two different options on his hands. In their opening game of the Premier League, where they lost 3-2 to Burnley after Gary Cahill and then Fabregas both saw red, the former Juventus boss opted for Batshuayi to start the match but he did not have an influence on the game.
The Spaniard started Chelsea’s 2-1 victory over Tottenham Hotspur but was guilty of missing a clear-cut chance and not holding the ball enough, as the Blues attempted to play a counter-attacking game. That being said, Batshuayi came off the bench and nearly threw the game away with an own-goal, but his striking credentials cannot be judged off of that.
Although Batshuayi is strong, powerful and has a good finish, his weakness for Chelsea is that he prefers to operate on the shoulder of the last defender rather than play as a target man to bring others into play.
This is a problem for Chelsea because so much of their creativity and attacking threat comes from Hazard, Pedro and Willian receiving the ball in the final third, once Chelsea have worked it to their striker, who can then protect the ball and lay it off at the right time.
A tale of two styles
The fact that Batshuayi likes to run in behind rather than receive the ball to feet also means that Conte’s counter-attacking style does not work as well because there is no outlet for the players breaking away to use to hold up the ball whilst they gain yards up the pitch to join the attack.
Morata is able to do both and is much more comfortable linking up play with the attacking midfielders behind him.
He is a more dynamic striker and is better tuned to Conte’s style of play, especially as the two know each other from their time at Juventus together.
During the last campaign, Batshuayi barely had time to play with Costa clearly Conte’s first choice. Morata did get more game time at Real Madrid but was also not the first choice striker.
Though they both made most of their appearances from the bench, Morata had significantly more goals (15 to Batshuayi’s 5) and assists (4 to Batshuayi’s 1).
The Spaniard also showed that he could score a variety of different types of goals, with eight right-footed finishes, six headers and one left footer.
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