The defeat to Manchester City on Saturday showed Chelsea that perhaps they will not be the team to beat this season, and that after a tough victory against Atletico Madrid a few days before, playing the favourites for the title was not the most ideal fixture they could have had. However, of greater significance to them for the next month or so is the hamstring injury sustained by Alvaro Morata in the match, which may keep him out for at least a month, maybe as much as six weeks. With the defending champions already a few points behind the two Manchester giants, and considering the style of play which Antonio Conte employs, and how important a player like the Spaniard is to them, this could be a tough blow for them.
Conte doesn’t trust Batshuayi
In the game, Conte gave an insight into what he might end up doing when he brought on Willian for his injured main striker. What was surprising was that he did not bring on Michy Batshuayi, the like-for-like replacement on the bench, instead going for the counter-attacking threat of the Brazilian, allied with Eden Hazard, used as a false nine. It also showed how little the manager trusts his Belgian striker, even though he would surely have been on a high after scoring the late winner in midweek in the Champions’ League.
Morata is tactically vital to Chelsea
Since arriving in the summer, Morata has had a good start to his time in English football, scoring six times in the league in seven games, including a hat-trick against Stoke. Diego Costa has not been missed as much as many people might have thought, even if his brutishness was perhaps lacking in the goalless draw against Arsenal a few weeks ago. However, the hold up play of Morata is vital for Chelsea, since he is often their out-ball when they wish to attack. Their tactics are often based on sitting back and then playing the ball up to the central striker who can hold it up, playing in smaller, quicker players in and around him. This was what Conte did last season with Costa, and he is now looking to repeat the same tactic. Without Morata though, there is nobody to play that role, which means that their style of play will have to change considerably.
To some extent, this may go back to the complaint that Conte had in the summer about the lack of squad depth that he had at his disposal. Take one player out, and all of a sudden the goal-scoring threat diminishes greatly, with much of it resting on Hazard, and sometimes Pedro. And as Jose Mourinho showed last year, if you stop Hazard, you stop Chelsea completely.
Perhaps the defensive tactics of Conte need to change too, since they seem to rely far too much in attack on a few players. Once they are out of form, injured or suspended, then Chelsea seem to have problems. The next month will see if Chelsea can find a solution without Morata. If they can’t, they may end up finding themselves too far back from the two teams at the top.
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