Why you might be seeing less of Alvaro Morata than you expected
Alvaro Morata looked sharp in Chelsea's shock opening-day defeat, but Antonio Conte says he's not quite there yet. What's going on with the Blues' record signing?
It may have been Chelsea's first opening-day defeat in two decades but many, including boss Antonio Conte, were clear about the positives – Morata being one of them.
His off-the-ball movement, something missed by many ready to criticise his pre-season showings in Singapore, revealed him to be a cut above most recent incumbents of the role. And he looked far more lively and capable in his 35-minute late cameo than Michy Batshuayi had in any of the preceding hour.
So there was some surprise, afterwards, when Conte insisted the £58m man still had some way to go in terms of fitness, and understanding of the boss' Chelsea system. Similar comments after the FA Community Shield defeat to Arsenal lead many to wrongly conclude that Conte did not rate the 24-year-old. (Note that, in mentioning Morata's penalty miss, Conte's line was essentially: 'anyone can miss a penalty').
So, unless much unseen progress is made in the next week, the smart money seems to be on Batshuayi starting again against Tottenham in the first Premier League game at Wembley, with Morata being left to work his magic from the bench.
There is a name many fans will not want to see in a piece about a Chelsea record-signing, but I'm going to drop it straight in here. The story of the Chelsea career of Fernando Torres, a man to whom Morata will inevitably be compared – at least initially, contains many failings.
The club should arguably have been nowhere near a man who, a few simple early checks could have revealed, was not the player Roman Abramovich believed him to be. But, following the banking of the cheque, it was Carlo Ancelotti's decision to blood his new acquisition against former employers Liverpool which may have caused much of the damage.
Torres was thrown to the wolves: not being familiar with Chelsea's system and being forced into a psychological battle where his comrades of a week ago were now his sworn enemies. He was subbed for Salomon Kalou on 66 minutes, Chelsea lost, and Torres never came close to returning on the investment shelled out on him.
This story is retold here because Morata has already passed, with flying colours, the first tests which Torres failed at Chelsea. It was 14 games, for club and country, before Torres scored; 11 minutes in the Premier League before Morata managed it.
Alvaro Morata of Chelsea scores his sides first goalGetty Images
Conte is a very different manager to Ancelotti, and one major way that manifests itself is in his obsession with the conditioning of his players. He likes to leave very little to chance, and he won't over-expose professionals who are not in the place he believes they need to be.
Another example of this is displayed in the caution we are about to witness in the case of the injured Eden Hazard.
He may well be match-ready, at a push, for the home game against Everton on August 27. But, even with depleted numbers, Conte is unlikely to chance the player until at least Leicester away a fortnight later – handily keeping the Belgian in his possession during the intervening international break.
Conte has been clear that Morata is to be his first-choice striker. What we are seeing now, along with the backstage dealings to bring in the players to complete his Chelsea jigsaw, is a readying of the team unit he intends to use to defend Chelsea's title.
Last season, that process took six Premier League matches: and no reminder is needed of the results of that process. Morata will be there, centre stage, scoring goals from the off. But it won't happen until Conte is sure he's good and ready.