Why Signing Alvaro Morata Is a Risk for Chelsea – and Why it Could Be One Worth Taking

Striker. The word that has polluted the minds of every Chelsea fan all summer. Whether it be social media, newspapers or television, it’s the core of all discussion revolving around the Premier League champions. Even the news that Antonio Conte had signed a new contract on Tuesday night only temporarily stopped the downpour of demands for progress on a deal for a new forward.

Let’s not beat around the bush, Chelsea brought this upon themselves. The Italian manager who could do no wrong suddenly cracked his pristine exterior with a rogue text message to the Blues’ anti-hero Diego Costa. The Spaniard was unwanted and Chelsea were left without a star goalscorer. Romelu Lukaku was the fairytale ending to the turbulent saga, but José Mourinho went off-script and signed the frontman for £75m; the pantomime villain had stumped the hero of the tale.

So they were back where they started. For Conte, especially, this was one big circle. A flashback to his Juventus days brought Álvaro Morata into his scope. The Real Madrid man – freshly discarded from United’s trolley – led Andrea Belotti and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in Chelsea’s own shopping list. The Blues confirmed on Wednesday evening that a deal is in place with Real Madrid, but is he the man for the job?

The reality is that nobody really knows. It’s no secret that Morata’s campaign in Madrid was a mixed bag. On the one hand, he averaged over a goal a game in La Liga (1.01) winning the league title and the Champions League. On the other hand, he made only 14 league starts and 12 substitute appearances; he was Europe’s star ‘cameo man’.

The first question for any Chelsea fan to ask is how a ‘cameo’ player can be worth a £70.8m transfer fee? The immediate argument is that it’s not easy to be a starter for Real Madrid, far from it, and not getting into the team does not label you a bad player; just ask James Rodriguez. 

The other defence is what Morata made out of his limited time on the pitch. In 1334 minutes, the Spaniard registered 15 goals and four assists, equating to a goal contribution every 70 minutes. Only five of those goals came against top ten opposition, yet he did earn Zinedine Zidane’s men some vital points along the way. 

He hit winners against Athletic Bilbao, Villarreal and Sporting CP in Europe. His hat-trick in the 4-2 win against Leganes was crucial for Real Madrid in the title run-in. He may not have played much but he was certainly the man for an occasion. 

Another anxiety over Morata’s move to west London is whether he’s better than the man he is replacing. Love him or hate him, Diego Costa scored 20 league goals last season and was vital in Chelsea’s title surge. It didn’t take an expert to observe that his second half of the season was far inferior to his first, yet there’s no denying his worth to Conte and his side.

Chelsea v Arsenal - Premier League

Statistically speaking, Costa surpasses Morata in almost every aspect: more shots (3.2 to 2.1), dribbles (1.6 to 0.8) and passes (29.5 to 13.8) per game. But it’s the minority figures – in which Morata wins – that will attract the eye of Chelsea fans. Morata had less unsuccessful touches (1.2 to 3.1) and was dispossessed less (1.3 to 3.4) per game than Costa. 

A frequent complaint of Chelsea fans in the back-end of last season was Costa’s tendency to lose the ball and disrupt attacking moves. Yes, he tries to be more decisive with his possession than Morata, but often this can end in dispossession and another frustrating turnover for Chelsea. The 2-0 loss to Manchester United demonstrated this, as Costa was dispossessed ten times and won a mere 21.7% of his duels. 

In Morata, Chelsea would be getting a player that is less risky with possession but that links-up with those around him in a more intricate way than Costa does. He is not technically perfect, but is an upgrade on the man he is replacing and will hope to be able to form a quick connection with the likes of Eden Hazard, Willian and international compatriots Pedro and Cesc Fabregas. 

If Conte is looking to control matches and keep the ball better in attacking areas, then a striker in the mould of Morata is ideal. The inevitable question mark comes with his capability to be a 20+ goal-a-season striker in the Premier League. In this sense, it’s a massive risk on Chelsea’s behalf to spend north of £70m on Morata, but it’s time for them to back their manager.  

Conte clearly likes Morata, and frequently tried to bring the 24-year-old to Turin during his three-year managerial spell at Juventus. Some reports even went as far to suggest that the Italian boss wanted the Spaniard ahead of Lukaku at the start of the summer. Whether purposeful or a situation of circumstance, it appears that he is finally going to get his chance to work with Morata and the striker is going to get his shot at being the main man. Watch this space. 

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