When Antonio Conte sent that fateful text message to Diego Costa at the end of last season, what concerned me most was not whether Chelsea would manage to sign Romelu Lukaku, Álvaro Morata, or some other, younger high-priced center forward, but simply that we were losing Diego Costa.
I thought that if anyone could handle Costa, it would be Conte. Conte is ruthless in his approach towards what he wants from each player in his team. His mentality and body language speaks for itself. I still think that Conte sending that message to Costa was a bad move.
So out went Costa and in came Morata. He was young and more importantly, he was hungry. This was the first time he was getting a chance to be the main striker at a big club. He came close to such a pivotal role during his time at Juventus under Conte, but definitely not at Real Madrid, stuck behind Karim Benzema.
Morata got off to a great start and 10 goals in 19 appearances so far in his first season in a new league doesn't sound bad. But he’s cooled off significantly since those first few months, and his present performances are a bit concerning. Barren spells and dips in form happen can happen to any player, but my issue with Morata is that unlike Costa who could often create or graft a goal out of nothing, he seems to be the kind of striker who continually needs a steady flow of assists in order to score. If Azpilicueta doesn't deliver that curving ball into the 6-yard-box or if the throughball from Fàbregas or Hazard doesn’t come, nothing will happen.
But these assists on a silver plate can be scarce. Take the Arsenal match on Wednesday in the Carabao Cup semi-final. Arsenal came to West London to prevent Chelsea from scoring and to take the a good result back to their home ground for the second leg. They accomplished exactly that by defending deep, with compact lines and tight marking, traits that were certainly surprising from an Arsene Wenger team but effective nonetheless.
That match needed a moment of grit, strength and brilliance to win in. Chelsea may have been the better team, but what the game truly needed was someone like Costa. He would have been a blessing. Maybe around 70 minutes, he would have pushed, pulled, and prodded his way past the Arsenal defenders and slotted one in the net. Just like he did against West Brom last season.
As Ian Darke said in commentary, “when you’ve got a problem, call Diego Costa”.
Morata is not that type of player. Costa absolutely bullied his defender into that goal; Morata has yet to display such physical strength to simply brush past defenders. Yes, he can turn the corner fast or even hold the ball up for some time, but he ain't Costa.
Morata, when compared to Lukaku, was said to be a more complete footballer, which is probably true. But what the Premier League also needs from a striker, especially in Conte’s system, is grit and strength and Morata is lacking in that department. Maybe he can develop them as time goes by, but right now, with the January transfer window open, Chelsea must go for a striker who can give (and is trusted by Conte to give) Morata much-needed competition for the position.
While it might be that Morata is actually trying too hard to make something happen (which is probably why he is missing easy chances!), I think in the back of his mind he also knows that there is no real threat to his position. Conte seems entirely unwilling to use Michy Batshuayi in most situations and Eden Hazard is an emergency option at best. Morata knows he is Conte’s first and only real choice at the moment.
Would Morata have started against Arsenal on Wednesday if he had a proper and trusted backup? I don’t believe so; not after those performances the previous week against Stoke City and Arsenal.
On a side note, I think it would be better for all involved if Batshuayi called time on his Chelsea career. In the meagre amount of chances given to him, he hasn’t shown any signs that would give the head coach some confidence in starting him on a regular basis. Sadly, the only thing Michy will likely have on his CV from his time at Chelsea will be the Premier League-winning goal from last season (which is great but not enough!).
So, the January window is open and Chelsea have been busy already. Now the club must prioritise acquiring a striker. If not now, then in the summer, absolutely. The Premier League is already out reach. But if we want to compete seriously in the Champions League, in the domestic cups, as well as next season, we need another striker, and not only to give Conte a second reliable option, but also to make Morata a better player, which he clearly has the potential to become.