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Michy Batshuayi vs. Newcastle: ‘Very important’ performance as future hangs in balance

Conte ‘very happy’ for Michy’s performance against Newcastle.

For the first time in his Chelsea career, Michy Batshuayi started three games in any four-game stretch. That’s almost half as many starts in a week and a half than all of last season.

Nor for the first time in his Chelsea career, Michy Batshuayi rewarded his playing time with goals. The two today bring his total to 10 (third player in double digits for the season) in less than 1000 minutes; only two less than both Morata and Hazard in less than half the minutes. Scoring as a substitute will tend to inflate minutes-per-goals numbers, but Michy’s average of just about a goal-per-game is still worthy of notice.

With rumors swirling about his future and Chelsea’s search for a new striker, his performance understandably was a focal point for the post-match interviews.

“I don’t know if it was his best game, but it was very important for the team and for him. For the striker to score is very important for confidence. We are talking about a young player with great potential. Today I showed the most important thing is the present, not the future, otherwise I would have taken other choices.

“Michy has worked with us for one-and-a-half years, and he has improved a lot in many tactical situations. We are talking about a powerful player because he is strong physically, and for sure he has a lot of space for improvement.

“My task is to work with him and every player and try to improve them, and if I do that the team improves. I am very happy for him and for the team. Now we have to continue in this way.”

Conte was suitably pleased and seemed, not just with the “very imporant” performance but with Batshuayi’s great improvement since the start of last season. Michy certainly looked full of confidence today, especially as he pushed for his hat-trick late in the second-half.

Meanwhile, the Chelsea head coach has seemingly changed his tune regarding the player’s future a little bit, even. Previously, the message was that Batshuayi can go on loan if Chelsea get a new striker. Now, the message is that we might actually need three strikers. (Which might be a tough sell for Dzeko, who’s already concerned about potential playing time.)

“If you see our squad, we don’t have three, four or five strikers, we have two, and Hazard who is a different striker who can play in this way.

“For the press, it depends a lot if the striker scores or doesn’t score. For me, it’s important to score, but at the same time, it’s important the striker has to work very well for the team. In this way, Michy has improved a lot, and then the club will make the best decision.

“When you have to play the league, the Champions League and then the FA Cup, three strikers is the minimum. Then we have to see what will happen during the transfer market. I don’t know if we will be able to get another player, but if we do, it doesn’t mean Michy has to go on loan. We have a lot of competition.

“If the club decides to add another player, I don’t know if Michy wants to stay or wants to go on loan. In this case it will be the player’s decision, not my decision, because I am ready to continue working with these players because I am very happy with them.”

-Antonio Conte; source: Chelsea FC

With Chelsea’s pursuit of Roma’s Edin Dzeko still not looking too fruitful, or smart, given the proposed transfer and contract terms — he started for them just the same today — keeping Batshuayi is increasingly looking like a decent possibility. Complicating any potential move for the 24-year-old is also Chelsea’s match on transfer deadline day (Wednesday night versus Bournemouth at the Bridge), for which Álvaro Morata is still not expected to be fit and which could thus very well see another start for Batshuayi.

Batshuayi himself wasn’t too forthcoming with any information after the game, but did not rule out either possibility, saying, as he has before, that the decision is out of his hands.

Eden Hazard insisted last week that Chelsea do not need a new striker in January. He backed that up today by setting up Batshuayi twice, and the Batsman making no mistake in either case. The first one was hardly a complicated finish, but as all good poachers will tell you, it’s about being in the right place at the right time.

Is Chelsea right now still the right place for Michy? Would getting Dzeko or whoever else really improve our chances of finishing top four (already looking good), going far in the FA Cup (achievable already), and doing the same in the Champions League (where Dzeko would be cup tied)? Just how concerned is Michy with his Belgium spot for the World Cup?

We have three days to find answers those questions, and make the best decision for all involved.

P.S.: Here’s Michy with the skill move of the day, what he calls a “semelle” (rolling the ball with the “sole” of your foot).

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