The long-standing hoodoo of the number 9 shirt at Chelsea looked to have been put to rest this season, when Alvaro Morata got off to an absolute flyer. The Spaniard had shone at Real Madrid and Juventus despite not playing as the first-choice striker, and now it seemed like his time had come to lead the line at one of the top clubs in Europe. He made a move to the Premier League to reunite with his former Juve boss Antonio Conte, in a club record deal worth £58 million. With 5 goals and 2 assists in his first 6 Premier League games, he couldn’t have hoped for a better start.
The number 9 shirt at Chelsea has been a curse of sorts under the Roman Abramovitch era. Just before the Russian took over in 2003, it was worn by GianlucaVialli and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, two extremely successful strikers who scored goals aplenty at the club. Since then though, it has been donned by MatejaKezman, Hernan Crespo, Khalid Boulahrouz (a centre-half, funnily enough), Steve Sidwell, Fernando Torres and RadamelFalcao. All these players were expected to hit great heights at Stamford Bridge, but had extremely disappointing careers in West London.
Morata’s time at the club has taken a turn for the worse since his promising start, and he is struggling to get into the first team now. His goal in the FA Cup quarter-final over Leicester City last weekend was his first of 2018, following a run of games where his performances can only be described as way below par. He missed three sitters against Arsenal at the turn of the year, before dropping to the bench. Olivier Giroud, who signed from Arsenal in January, has been preferred to him since, and Eden Hazard has also started in a false 9 role on a couple of occasions.
Morata has come across as extremely lightweight, falling down on regular occasions and asking the referee to blow for a foul at the slightest contact. He has found the going in the Premier League very tough, and the physical side of the game is something he is clearly not suited to. His game, which is based mostly on pace and technique, is not necessarily suited to the way Chelsea play. The strikers who have done well for the Blues in the Premier like Didier Drogba and Diego Costa have been physically strong and able to bully opposition defenders.
Watching Morata in the past few months has been extremely frustrating, as he is almost displaying a lack of fight and toughness when playing as the lone striker. Opponents now know that if they get tight to him, he will lose possession and the attack will break down. It is going to take a lot of conditioning and hard work for this aspect of his game to change, and it remains to be seen whether he has the character and determination to turn it around.
This makes us ask the question – does he really have a future at Chelsea? The Blues are struggling to find an out and out goalscorer since Costa left the club in January (after sitting out the first half of the season following a falling out with Conte), and could once again look for a big money signing in the summer. Conte is slowly but surely losing faith in Morata, and the 25 year-old will find it very difficult to get back after falling down the pecking order for a prolonged period of time. His tally of 13 goals is not all that bad, and there is still time to further add to that number. But Chelsea need someone stronger and much more consistent, if they are get back among the title challengers next season.
For now, it looks like he could very well join the long list of number 9’s at Chelsea who proved to be just another failed experiment.
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