New signing Gonzalo Higuaín made his Chelsea debut last night just four days after putting pen to paper on his loan contract.
Starting as the center forward flanked by Willian on the left and Callum Hudson-Odoi on the right, Higuaín was perhaps not as involved as many would’ve expected — certainly not after some of Eden Hazard’s turns as a false-nine — but the veteran striker did a lot of classic striker things like staying central, staying strong(er than Morata), providing good movement with quick bursts over short distances, displaying close control, and a willingness to shoot.
Alas, he did not mark his debut with a goal — three shots tied for the team lead — even passing on Willian’s offer to forgo the set order and take the penalty that Azpilicueta won in the first half.
“No, [he didn’t ask for it], I wanted to give him the ball. [...] I wanted him to score the first goal today. But it will come soon.”
-Willian; source: Chelsea TV via Metro
It’s not clear if there was a designated penalty-taker on the night (with Hazard and Jorginho both on the bench), but Willian picked up the ball as it was going to be him, then offered it to Higuaín, who then refused.
Gianfranco Zola apparently said in an exclusive talkSport interview that it was Higuaín who was supposed to take it, but that doesn’t really mesh with the video or Willian’s words.
“In the list, he (Higuaín?) was the first one to take the penalty. But they spoke to each other – sometimes this happens. It was a nice gesture from Willian.”
-Gianfranco Zola; source: talkSport
So instead of a debut goal for Higuaín — who doesn’t have a tremendous record with 19 of 27 converted (70%) outside of penalty shootouts in his career, and had missed one earlier in the season for Milan, for which he was roundly criticized especially as he apparently wasn’t the regular taker (Franck Kessié was) — we instead got Willian’s 50th for Chelsea. At the end of the day it doesn’t really matter, though it plays well into the narrative of Higuaín lacking confidence and folding under pressure, which the Mail didn’t hesitate to bring up immediately.
But there are surely better days ahead for the 31-year-old. Zola is certain of it, though he wouldn’t say otherwise even if he wasn’t.
“Considering it was his first game, you will see more from him. A couple of times in the first half he made some great moves into space and he nearly got the right ball.
“I’m personally satisfied with him, but he’s going to get better because he needs to build up an understanding with the others. Sometimes in the first half he was making movement, but we couldn’t see his movement and it’s something we need to improve.”
-Gianfranco Zola; source: Chelsea FC
Higuaín’s movement, especially in the first-half was excellent and he was perhaps unlucky to not score, or at least link up more often.
A solid start to his Chelsea career, however long it may last, and should be getting plenty of opportunities to open his account soon.