Oh, to be a football player, a striker especially. One day you’re the best, the next you’re the worst. Score a few goals, and people sing your name. Miss a few chances, and you might as well turn off, tune out, and go be a hermit somewhere in the Pyrenees because the sky is falling and everything is terrible.
Morata, a man who beat himself up over missing a silly penalty kick in the Community Shield, knows this better than most, though taking his friend and “father figure” Gigi Buffon’s advice to heart, he undoubtedly tries to put on a brave face — “He took me aside, alone, and said that if I wanted to cry, do it at home. He said the people who wished me ill would be happy to see that and the people who wished me well would be saddened by it.”
Álvaro Morata, Chelsea’s new Mr Nice, wants to be Antonio Conte’s beast. By @sidlowe https://t.co/aZKdDalK70— Guardian sport (@guardian_sport) August 5, 2017
It’s part of Morata’s introspective “nice guy” nature that undoubtedly opens him up to easy criticism, the “mental hang-ups” (as Buffon put it) sometimes keeping him from becoming all that he could be. The feeling of dread was palpable after he missed his first 1-v-1 against Arsenal yesterday, and few were surprised that he would go on to complete a second consecutive game with a hat-trick of missed clear cut chances. Against Stoke City, they didn’t matter since Chelsea scored five and gave up none. Against Arsenal, with the Blues back to shanking ways (not just Morata, but Bakayoko, Fàbregas, Hazard not shooting, etc), those missed chances came back to haunt the Blues. In fairness, the game was in the bag anyway until Bellerin’s injury time equalizer. And even then Zappacosta had time to slam one off the crossbar.
14 - Alvaro Morata has missed 14 big chances in the Premier League this season, only Salah (15) has missed more. Wasteful.— OptaChelsea (@OptaChels) January 3, 2018
Both teams had a “non-shot xG” of over 2 as well, in addition to the actual shots.
xG map for Arsenal - Chelsea. The finishing pixie decided to have some fun with Alvaro Morata. pic.twitter.com/INgdZw6IOv— Caley Graphics (@Caley_graphics) January 3, 2018
But all other events aside, the missed chances are becoming a hot topic and Morata knows. He’s too clever to ignore the chatter, unfortunately. Can he deal with it and move beyond it? Probably; he’s done it before.
“Sometimes I go home, put the game on and think: ‘How can I miss that?’ It affects you; it also affects you to know your career also depends on the opinion of journalists, fans, directors, and sometimes they’re not really qualified to judge. In my position, what matters is goals. ‘Did he score? No? Una mierda de partido [a shit game].’ They don’t know the movement, everything you’ve done. Your life can change in a moment, depending if the ball goes in. In a week, I went from people shouting, ‘Leave Madrid!’ to scoring against Sporting and then, ‘Hey, saviour!’ You can’t think you’re God when you score an important goal or the worst player around when its going badly.”
-Álvaro Morata; April 2017
So, what’s next? More hard work of course. Chelsea and Morata, specifically, have got a fever, and the only prescription is more hard work. Here’s Morata’s tweet to that effect. Just don’t read the replies; fans are the worst.
When things don't go as expected there's only one way... Work hard!— Álvaro Morata (@AlvaroMorata) January 3, 2018
Se nos escaparon los tres puntos... Cuando las cosas no salen como uno espera, solo hay un camino... trabajar, trabajar y trabajar. pic.twitter.com/uBcVFLqEOk
Conte, of course, continues to support Chelsea’s record signing. It’s what Conte does, rain or shine. Work work work, improve improve improve. The difference is that it’s quite clear where Morata has to improve, though perhaps that makes it a bit easier. With Torres — hard to not bring him up at this point — part of the trouble was that no one knew what was wrong. Not only could he not finish, but he was a passenger most of the time, or even worse. Morata’s movement, on the other hand, remains stellar, his technique outside of shooting is great, and his link-up with the other players generally excellent. Finishing is an art and a science and also reliant a bit on luck. All three parts are lacking a bit for the 25-year-old at this moment.
“This is not a lucky period for him because at the last game versus Stoke I said it is very important for the striker to have the chance to score, and here today he had chances to score but it is football. I am very happy for his commitment and his effort for the team, this is the most important for me but for the striker it is important to score because then your confidence is up. In this case his confidence can do down but he is very young and he has to continue to work to improve and he will see that the goal is coming.
“The only things I can tell him are to stay calm and continue to work in this way for the team because then the chances will arrive for him and for the other players. This is the first season he is playing with regularity. He has to stay calm and to continue to play in this way and the goal is coming.”
-Antonio Conte; source: Chelsea FC
One last bit of relevant analysis came from Sky Sports’ Thierry Henry, a man who knows a thing or two about scoring goals and the man who waxed poetic about Morata’s finish (with his foot!) against Stoke the first time around.
“The hardest thing in the game is when you have time to score as a striker. It sounds crazy. One of the best to do it was the Brazilian Ronaldo, he used to put the goalkeeper down.
”But the more you think about what you need to do, the more difficult it becomes. When he has to score a reaction goal, with quick reaction he is good at it. Sometimes when he is in one-v-one situations - apart from the goal he scored at Stoke where he finished that well - he tends to think too much about what he needs to do and then the goalkeeper is too close to you and it becomes very difficult.”
-Thierry Henry; source: Sky
So, chin up, Álvaro, and don’t overthink it. You’re not the first or the last Chelsea striker to hit a bit of a slump — Costa would do it for months on end; Drogba only had two seasons out of the nine here when he was practically unstoppable; and Torres was Torres.
Win or lose, it’s time to work hard and improve.