Losing your freshly injected star striker is a tough pill for any manager to swallow – even Antonio Conte, who looked on with frustration during Chelsea’s 1-0 defeat to Manchester City on Saturday.
Alvaro Morata has probably performed well above most people’s expectations so far despite his hefty £60 million transfer from European champions Real Madrid. Chelsea fans were unsure of how well he could cope with leading an attack as he emerges from Cristiano Ronaldo’s chiselled shadow.
Antonio Conte now looks to be dealing with around six weeks without the Spaniard as they drop six points off the pace in the Premier League and more stern tests against Manchester United and Roma creep onto the agenda.
Saturday yielded some differing insights as to how Conte may operate without Morata; will he be forced into trusting Batshuayi or pack his team with playmakers?
Conte’s surprising tactical flaws
Against Manchester City, it was a surprise to many that Willian replaced the injured striker, leaving Chelsea without a recognised number nine on the pitch. The Blues looked strangely out of their depth and, without a focal point to the attack, struggled to break out of their own half. Maybe Conte was just trying to wrestle back some control and fill up the midfield. Could we see this formation again, using a false number nine in order to get Hazard, Pedro, Willan and Fabregas on the pitch together? It may be an option for future games although unlikely after the City performance.
So that then leaves super sub Batshuayi in the limelight. He showed some energy and strength against City and is more than capable inside the penalty area. From the outside, he looks like a strong, powerful Chelsea front man but he still seems less than convincing to the hard-nosed Italian manager.
The likely option sees Chelsea reverting to their normal 3-4-3, with Willian and Pedro fighting it out for that last attacking spot – but don’t be surprised if there are some tactical shifts. The big shock for me at the weekend was seeing a usually tactically astute Chelsea team scratching their heads.
The injury to Morata looked more significant than losing Hazard, no doubt he is the star of this team but he has capable understudies. Manchester City looked at ease without Aguero; Chelsea looked clueless without Morata.