There can be little debate Michy Batshuayi is a talented goalscorer. Throughout his career, the Belgium international has averaged one goal every 147 minutes – an impressive strike-rate for a 24-year-old still learning his trade – and the varying methodologies of his 16 goals for Chelsea is incredibly telling; one penalty, one header, nine goals with his right foot and five with his left. A talented striker, however, the former Marseille man is not.
What’s the difference, you may ask? The same difference as being a winger with deadly delivery from set pieces, but incredibly little to offer in open play. There’s far more to being a front-man, especially at a club of Chelsea’s stature, than simply putting the ball in the back of the net and that’s become increasingly prevalent in the modern game where wide forwards, rather than the central strikers, are the new superstars of the starting XI and in many cases the most dependable goalscorer.
And while Batshuayi may boast the killer instinct that can turn defeats into draws and draws into wins with one clinical finish, the other aspects of his game leave much to be desired. If we apply the same per-minutes science used to glamorise his goal tally to the rest of the Belgian’s game, he averaged less than one successful dribble, one successful aerial duel and one chance created per ninety minutes last season.
But more than just the statistics, it’s the aimless way Batshuayi leads the line, and his failure to use movement to bring others – chiefly, Chelsea’s top talent Eden Hazard – into the game.
Accordingly, Batshuayi creates a dysfunction within the team, which is why, despite his consistent supply of goals and particularly important ones – five of his 16 for Chelsea have been game-winning goals – Antonio Conte has shown increasingly diminishing faith in the young striker. It’s also why, when Batshuayi has been given chances to prove himself in the starting XI rather than entering games from the bench, he’s failed to take them.
The scoreless draw with Norwich City in the Third Round of the FA Cup last weekend was a telling example; despite a consistent supply line from Willian, who was Chelsea’s busiest presence at Carrow Road, Batshuayi couldn’t outmanoeuvre a rugged defence to find the net against Championship opposition. And we know the problem isn’t his finishing – it’s his capacity to create situations where his finishing actually comes into play.
But there is little doubt Batshuayi has talent, and therein lies the problem for the young striker; he’ll never improve on the other parts of his game, particularly positioning, movement and hold-up play, while playing second fiddle to Alvaro Morata.
Since signing for Chelsea last summer, Batshuayi has picked up just 1483 minutes of game-time – that’s the equivalent of just 17 full ninety-minute appearances, in the space of 18 months. Less than one full ninety minutes per month just isn’t enough exposure for Batshuayi to gain the experience he needs to become a better-rounded front-man.
And especially with a World Cup around the corner, Batshuayi needs to move on. He may still fall under the category of a young striker learning the ropes, but in a few seasons’ time he’ll be amid his theoretical peak years and judged accordingly. When footballers aren’t regularly producing the goods at the age of 26 or 27, they have a knack of sliding down world football’s collective pecking order incredibly quickly.
The issue, however, is whether Chelsea can actually afford to let the 13-cap international leave this month. There’s already huge pressure – both physically and mentally – on Alvaro Morata to provide goals because of Conte’s lack of faith in Batshuayi, and that will only amplify if the Blues can’t bring in a replacement before the January transfer window slams shut.
Strikers, particularly, tend to be in short supply mid-season too. But it’s clear that for both Chelsea and Batshuayi, the current status quo can’t go on much longer; while the former will always be hindered without a second-choice striker the manager trusts, the latter will never develop into a top-class striker by arresting his weaknesses without the game-time to learn more about his trade. Whether it’s in January or the summer, something has to give.
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