There’s a big hole appearing at Stamford Bridge, a hole that can go one of two ways; an escalation into a gaping crack that could derail a title challenge, or a small dent that can be easily covered. For Antonio Conte and Alvaro Morata, the next few weeks will determine exactly what that hole will become.
Chelsea began the new season in poor form, losing the Community Shield to Arsenal before suffering a shock opening game defeat. While a poor penalty made rival fans happy, Morata looked to prove his doubters wrong and battled admirably in the 3-2 defeat to Burnley, scoring one goal and setting up another.
A few weeks on and Chelsea have turned it all around with 4 wins and a draw, a run that saw them amongst the title challengers. In that run, Alvaro Morata scored an impressive five goals in five games and firmly establishing himself as the ideal replacement for Diego Costa.
However, where Costa excelled in raw power and aggressiveness, Morata’s more reserved, graceful approach seems to help the team maintain a good balance. The likes of Marcus Alonso and Pedro are shining with Morata in the system and fans are eager to see him link up with Eden Hazard once he is back to full fitness.
Morata’s injury causes concern
However, straight after that hat-trick against Stoke City, Morata injured his hamstring against Manchester City and asked to be subbed off in the first half of the game. Conte granted his wishes as it was obvious the Spaniard was in pain and didn’t want to aggravate the injury any further. Upon closer analysis, this may have been the best call because Morata has now been ruled out for just over a month as he recovers from a grade two myofascial injury.
This will keep him out of the league fixtures against Crystal Palace, Watford and Bournemouth, which now looks like an absence that came at the right time, fortuitously for the Blues. All three opponents are what you’d consider as easier ties and with Crystal Palace and Bournemouth struggling towards the bottom of the league, some of their top players may be rested anyway. However, even though on paper this should be nine points out of nine, Conte will still need to replace Morata and hope they can bring something to the team.
As a direct replacement, it will now be up to Michy Batshuayi who is required to step up to the mark and fill his teammate’s shoes. The Belgian striker has not had many chances up front in the league and will need to be in top form to prove why he deserves a starting berth. He’s already displayed his goalscoring prowess in the Carabao Cup with a hat-trick against Nottingham Forest. Will he be able to take his form into the domestic season? The real measurability of success will come in the form of goals, as they always do for strikers.
Can Batshuayi fill Morata’s boots?
There’s a major difference between the two strikers’ style of play. It has already been stated how Morata has added a diverse dimension to Chelsea with his tendency to play as not only a striker, but a false nine too. The 24-year-old has solid dribbling ability and is lethal on the counter attack. Will Batshuayi bring these elements into his game? Although he excels at finishing and movement around the box, he lacks strength to hold onto the ball and his aerial duelling is weak, making him inferior to Morata. This could prove a hindrance to Conte because of his intricate tactics and if Batshuayi doesn’t work well with the team, he could be causing more problems than solving them.
Although considered a younger talent, the Belgian is remarkably the same age as Morata at 24, and will have to prove his worth sooner rather than later. Fortunately for him, the game against Crystal Palace looks winnable right from kick-off and could help him improve his confidence as he goes into the other games.
Furthermore, while the game against Watford may push them further, the likes of Hazard, Willian and Pedro should be more than capable of winning the tie. Finally, the game against lowly Bournemouth will be easier than most and may be another opportunity for Batshuayi to prove his worth. However, all three sides will sit back and make it difficult, meaning the young striker will need to be at the top of his game.
What will be the question is will Morata be ready in time for the next fixture after Bournemouth. No longer an easy ride, Chelsea will go up against title rival Manchester United at Stamford Bridge and having already drawn to Arsenal and lost to Man City, Conte will know he’ll have to do better here. If
Morata is still out of that game, will Batshuayi be ready?
Chelsea fans will hope Morata will be back as soon as possible but know that if Batshuayi can get a good run in the side, he can be pivotal in helping the Blues lift the title. His goal last season helped push Conte over the line in their 1-0 win over West Brom and even though it may not be as dramatic as that this time around, his performances against the three clubs here can make a big difference at the end of the season.