For the second time in a week, Chelsea conceded a goal to a player who had never previously scored against them. For the second time in a week Willian scored a superb goal to put Chelsea ahead only to see his efforts go unrewarded.
However, against Barcelona, Chelsea drew a match which they should have won; against Man Utd on Sunday, they conspired to lose a game they should at the very least have drawn.
Not for the first time and probably not for the last, Chelsea supporters frustratingly saw their side snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. If that isn’t frustrating enough, the taste is made even more bitter by the fact that Man Utd’s man-of-the-match was former Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku.
While Lukaku never managed one goal against Chelsea from the 97 he has scored in the Premier League, he didn’t register when playing for Chelsea, either. Perhaps this was one of the reasons why his manager at that time, Jose Mourinho, let him go. Ironically, Lukaku again finds himself managed by Jose Mourinho and in fact it was Mourinho who encouraged United to fork out £75 million for the Belgian’s signature last summer. I would imagine that Lukaku and Mourinho are enjoying a post-match cuddle and wallowing in a bit of schadenfreude right now.
Having failed to beat Manchester United to the signature of Lukaku last summer, Chelsea instead settled on the more silky talents of Alvaro Morata. Morata’s pedigree, having played for European giants such as Real Madrid and Juventus, augured well. Who needs the blunderbuss of Romelu Lukaku when you can have the rapier of Alvaro Morata?
AS IT HAPPENED: Manchester United vs Chelsea, Premier League
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After an encouraging start to his Chelsea career with 10 goals in his first 17 Premier League matches, Morata’s Rolls Royce engine seems to have stalled. He has not scored since the 2-0 win on Boxing Day against Brighton. Although in mitigation, he has been out for a few games with a back injury, there are worrying signs if you are a Chelsea supporter expecting a lot more bang for the £60 million spent on him.
David Coleman famously said about Kevin Keegan scoring in the 1974 FA Cup final against Newcastle “Goals pay the rent, Keegan does his share!” We expect our star strikers to score goals, frequently and in big matches. But there is more to it than that, and this arguably points to the most alarming issue with Morata’s drop in form.
The Premier League is infamously physical. Central defenders do not ask for and give no quarter. Challenges that might be deemed rough or over-the-top in Spain are waved away in England. Time and time again when challenging with an opposition defender or midfielder, Morata often comes off second-best and usually ends up on his rear end. Following this are plaintive looks to the referee for protection or retribution by means of a free-kick. The referees ignore him, not always justifiably it has to be said, but they already have it in their mind that Morata goes down too easily.
One of two things need to happen, neither of them easy to do in the short term. Either Morata needs to completely change his mentality on the pitch and adapt to a more physical game, where referees will wave away rough challenges, or he will need to bulk up and ride out some of these challenges. It seems to be both mental and physical but, one way or another, he needs to front up.
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It’s not the first time we have seen a Chelsea striker spending more time writhing around on the pitch. In Didier Drogba’s first season for Chelsea he scored a mere 16 goals and spent a disproportionate time diving, coming off second-best in a challenge and moaning about it to the referee. But he turned it round and, two seasons later, he scored 33 goals for Chelsea.
While Morata will never be the imposing physical specimen that Drogba was, there is no reason that he might not be able to turn his form around if he can get the mental side of his game right. After all, Fernando Torres was a similar striker to Morata and while he did go through a dreadful run of form, he never shirked the fight.
Maybe it’s all about confidence. Within four minutes, Morata nearly opened the scoring with an instinctive volley from a few yards out. It ricocheted off the bar and Eden Hazard was unable to put it away on the second attempt. With minutes of the match remaining, Morata did put the ball in the net, which would have salvaged a point for Chelsea. He was given offside, but pictures on TV indicated that he was marginally onside and the goal should have counted. Football is a game of fine margins but one wonders what two goals for Morata against Manchester United would have done for his confidence.
One wonders what it might have done for Chelsea’s collective and apparently fragile confidence, too. Having looked much the better side in the first half, they stood off United in the second and let them back in to the game. Surely, going for the kill rather than cautiously playing for a draw against a United side who are no Barcelona, would have served them better?
As a consequence, Chelsea are fifth behind Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham; facing a battle to finish in the top four. But whilst a top-four finish won’t be decided by a defeat at Old Trafford or even a defeat to Manchester City next week, it will be in the remaining five home and four away fixtures. Most, if not all, are winnable, including two home matches against top-four rivals Spurs and Liverpool. Given Chelsea’s run-in, where they can take points off two rivals with the advantage of being at home, if they don’t finish in the top-four, they’ll only have themselves to blame.
David Chidgey @StamfordChidge
David Chidgey presents the award-winning Chelsea FanCast podcast which can be heard live every Monday at 19.00 at mixlr.com/chelsea-fancast/ or downloaded from Acast, ITunes, Soundcloud or chelseafancast.com @ChelseaFanCast