If Maurizio Sarri is to transform Chelsea into an offensive outfit parallel to Manchester City and Liverpool, he’ll need a centre-forward in roaring form to convert all of that attacking play into crucial goals.
But right now, that task seems somewhat beyond club-record acquisition Alvaro Morata; after a glistening start to his Blues career, the Spain international has gone on to score just once in 2018 and has looked worryingly disinterested for much of his first two competitive appearances under Sarri – in the Community Shield defeat to Manchester City and the win over Huddersfield last weekend.
So, where does Sarri go from here and who should be leading the line when Chelsea host Arsenal at Stamford Bridge on Saturday? Football FanCast outline four suggested solutions…
He’s by no means the finished article or the mould of a typical Sarri striker, usually preferring technical ingenuity over sheer size, but Tammy Abraham’s a real prospect with 28 senior goals under his belt at the age of just 20, including five in the Premier League for a now-relegated Swansea City side last season. Another loan move in the top flight appeared the likeliest scenario but Abraham has stayed at the club past the deadline while Michy Batshuayi has since departed for Valencia, suggesting the England international has done enough to wrestle his way into Sarri’s thinking for the campaign.
Even so, serving as Chelsea’s centre-forward week-in, week-out still feels a little beyond the youngster at this moment in time and perhaps his impact this season will be felt most in the cup competitions rather than the Premier League.
Sarri reacted to Gonzalo Higuain’s departure at Napoli by redefining Dries Mertens as a false nine and it certainly had a positive impact on the Belgium international’s career – bagging 50 of his 90 goals and 24 of his 58 assists for the Serie A club from that position rather than his traditional role on the wing.
Eden Hazard is of course of a very similar mould to his countryman and the idea of using the Chelsea talisman at the tip of attack is nothing new; Roberto Di Matteo, Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte have all deployed him there before.
Chelsea have the wide men for that way of playing, with Willian and Pedro both more than capable of drifting inside and scoring goals, but the experiment has previously produced incredibly mixed results, largely because Hazard rarely ends up applying the final pass or the finish to attacking moves – the scenarios where you’d want your best player on the ball.
Olivier Giroud did a solid job coming into Chelsea’s starting XI last season, offering the physical presence in attack Morata often seems to lack, and he quickly struck up an impressive partnership with Hazard, often bringing the Belgian forward into the game in dangerous areas.
Hazard would no doubt benefit from that kind of service once again, especially if Giroud can improve upon his return of five goals in 17 appearances from the second half of last season. But the structure of this Chelsea team has significantly changed and while there’s no reason the Frenchman can’t be as effective in a 4-3-3, the balls into him will be markedly different and far less direct.
The other concern is Giroud’s ceiling; you always know what you’re getting out of the World Cup winning striker, but it also feels like his performance levels will never go beyond a certain point. If Chelsea are to match City and Liverpool for firepower this season, Giroud probably isn’t the man to provide it.
Let’s not rule out all the possibilities just yet and while Morata’s early performances this season have certainly raised cause for concern, it shouldn’t be forgotten how fantastic the Spaniard looked at times last term, especially when he was allowed to attack the ball in the air.
And there’s no doubting Morata’s pedigree – he’s a product of Real Madrid’s academy, was once re-signed by them and spent two successful seasons at Juventus as well, scoring some big goals in the Champions League.
There’s clearly a real talent in there and Sarri’s man-management combined with his offensive philosophy could be what finally brings it out of the 25-year-old on a more consistent basis. It might just take a little more time, especially considering how low Morata’s confidence was at the tail-end of last season.
So, Chelsea fans, which player would you start at centre-forward against Arsenal this weekend? Let us know by voting below…