Chelsea eased the pressure on manager Antonio Conte with a 1-0 victory over Manchester United at the weekend. The result was a much-needed tonic to the defeats to Crystal Palace in the Premier League and Roma in the Champions League, which had caused speculation to mount about the Italian’s future.
In a close-fought encounter at Stamford Bridge, the match-winner for Chelsea was mega-money summer signing Alvaro Morata, whose second-half header capped an impressive personal display.
Morata had hit the ground running upon his arrival from Real Madrid, showing scintillating form in the opening rounds of the new season. No transitional period was required, which was just what Conte wanted after he had made it clear that Diego Costa no longer had a future at the club.
However, a hamstring strain interrupted Morata’s promising start to life in West London and it took the Spain international time to rediscover his best form.
It was ironic that Morata’s return to the goalscoring trail came against United, whom he seemed set to join before Jose Mourinho pulled the plug and opted to sign Romelu Lukaku from Everton instead.
Whereas the Belgian forward was completely ineffective at Stamford Bridge – as he has been in a number of big matches for United this season – Morata was instrumental to the home side’s triumph and showed why he is the ideal replacement for Costa.
Morata’s seventh goal in 10 Premier League appearances for Chelsea was arguably his most important; not just for Conte’s managership, but for his own morale.
Goals are the currency in which strikers deal and the 25-year-old will be relived to have found the back of the net after a barren spell.
Morata is renowned as a fine header of the ball who can generate significant power and accuracy. His winner against United demonstrated these qualities.
It required a pinpoint cross by his Spanish compatriot Cesar Azpilicueta, but Morata timed his jump to perfection and planted the ball back across David de Gea, who could only watch it sail into the top corner.
Much like Costa, his predecessor in the number nine role, Morata is a physical presence who can bully defenders.
However, he is much more subtle than Costa and, like all top sharpshooters, has the knack of finding himself in the right place at the right time.
United played a three-man central defence against Chelsea and Morata gave each of them a torrid time. After a couple of disappointing performances, this was just the showing Blues’ supporters were seeking from their £60 million man.
It has been a topsy-turvy start to the 2017/18 campaign for Chelsea, the reigning Premier League champions.
Conte’s authority has been tested in the wake of several issues, the latest being his decision to drop David Luiz from the squad against Manchester United.
Nonetheless, Morata has fitted in seamlessly at the Blues, repaying the faith Conte has shown in him and vindicating the manager’s decision to offload Costa.
The former Real Madrid star will be crucial to their Premier League aspirations.