Alvaro Morata suffered a hamstring injury during Chelsea’s 1-0 loss to Manchester City this weekend, which leaves Antonio Conte with just one senior striker- Michy Batshuayi.
News of the extent to Morata’s injury is yet to be confirmed, but first reports state he could be out for six weeks, potentially missing up to six games during that time.
The 24-year-old Belgian is the same age as his injured Spaniard teammate, but is still seen as too junior a player to lead the Chelsea frontline by fans and manager.
Conte would rather play Hazard upfront than Batshuayi
Last season, following his £33m move from Anderlecht, Batshuayi made 20 appearances in the league. But he only started one game, Chelsea’s penultimate game against Watford. The league had already been wrapped up but this point and Conte rewarded squad players for their patience, with Kenedy, Nathan Ake, Nathaniel Chalobah, Batshuayi and also John Terry starting.
Chelsea’s leading forward Diego Costa remained on the bench that game and only missed a further two league games last season. The first was against Bournemouth on December 26, which the Spaniard had to sit out because of a one-match suspension following his fifth yellow card of the season. The second game, just two weeks later against Leiceter on January 14, saw Costa was dropped from the squad following a row with Conte over a huge offer from China.
Eden Hazard was preferred option upfront for these two games, deployed in a false-nine position. Willian and Pedro were deployed behind him, making up the front three in Conte’s 3-4-3. Conte’s faith in the Belgian pseudo-forward was rewarded with a goal against the Cherries and an assist for Marcos Alonso’s goal against the Foxes.
Chelsea opened the scoring in both games within the first 30 minutes and Batshuayi only played seven minutes across the pair of games.
Batshuayi scores goals when he plays, what more does Conte want?
Batshuayi’s goalscoring record at Chelsea is good, last season he scored 11 across all competitions (averaging a goal every 72 mins) in just 792 minutes. This season, he has scored five in 361 minutes (averaging a goal every 72.2 mins), including the winner at Atletico Madrid in the Champions League.
Critics will argue that he boosts his goal-scoring record with goals against lesser opposition in the early rounds of the domestic cup. He scored four goals and made another two during Chelsea’s wins Peterborough, Brentford and Bristol Rovers last season, being involved in six of the Blues’ 11 goals. This season, he scored three goals during Chelsea’s 5-1 win over Nottingham Forest in the third round of the Carabao Cup.
Batshuayi has scored key goals already in his career, securing Chelsea the league with his late winner after coming on as a late substitute against West Brom on May 12. He also won all three points in a crucial Champions League game away to Atletico Madrid with a late winner.
Chelsea’s gruelling schedule
If Morata does miss the next six weeks of football, someone will need to play upfront in his absence for games against Crystal Palace (A), Roma (H), Watford (H), Everton (H-Carabao Cup), Bournemouth (A) and Roma (A).
More worryingly, Chelsea face five games in just two weeks after the international break, which could not have come at a better time for Conte in truth, all things considered.
Hazard has only just recovered from an injury himself, starting the last two crucial games against Atletico Madrid and Manchester City. Over the next week, Belgium face Bosnia and Herzegovina on October 7, followed by Gibraltar on October 10. But they have won Group H and qualified for the World Cup already.
This affords Roberto Martinez the opportunity to rotate and experiment with his squad. Hazard played 77 and 16 minutes for his country last month, before playing a single minute for his club.
The international break will give Hazard time to continue his progressive recovery and work his way up to full fitness, as an injury to both Morata and Hazard could end Chelsea’s season as early as October.
Chelsea’s Champions League games against Roma (October 18 and 31), and Premier League game against Manchester United (November 5) are the most important games during this critical potential Morata-less period in October. Hazard will have to play these as Chelsea’s talisman and main creative outlet.
Fortunately, Chelsea face strugglers Crystal Palace, Everton and Bournemouth this month. Conte should feel comfortable enough to play Batshuayi in these games, with Hazard being rested or allowed to play in a more free second-striker role, rather than playing as a sole striker.