Alvaro Morata’s injury comes at a time just after the striker began to find his footing in the league. The Spaniard limped off in the 35th minute against Manchester City clutching his left hamstring. Upon assessment, it was found that Morata had a level II tear in his hamstring, an injury which is bound to keep him out of action for at least six to eight weeks.
Morata’s injury comes at a period when Chelsea have hit a rough patch in the domestic league and are currently occupying the fourth position in the table, five points behind the two Manchester clubs.
Although Chelsea’s upcoming fixtures do not really present their biggest challenge, Antonio Conte could have done without the added headache of playing without his leading frontman and racked up a few quick victories to get the Blues back into the title race.
Challenges like trips to Crystal Palace and Bournemouth and hosting Watford and Everton at home means that Conte should be hopeful of winning all his matches despite having to play Michy Batshuayi up front.
Of the bigger challenges, the double-header against AS Roma and the visit of Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United will give Conte plenty of sleepless nights.
As for the Champions League matches, Conte’s side find themselves in a comfortable position in a tricky group that involves Atletico Madrid and Qarabag and should be happy if they manage to win even one of the two matches against AS Roma.
The Manchester United match, however, is now a must-win clash for the Blues if they are to have any hope of catching up with the league leaders. Exactly how they plan to do that with Morata out and Conte not ready to place his trust in Batshuayi remains to be seen.
Batshuayi has had a very good pre-season and has already scored 6 goals this season including a hat-trick against Nottingham Forest. However, Batshuayi failed to make any impact against the bigger sides and his inability to join in Chelsea’s link-up play or to help hold up the ball for his teammates has clearly pushed Conte away from trusting the fun-loving Belgian.
Chelsea’s only other option remaining is to play on fast counter attacks and use the pacey, smaller players in the form of Willian and Pedro alongside Eden Hazard who can fit into the pockets of spaces in the final third. With Fabregas protected and shielded by N’Golo Kante, he should have just enough time he needs on the ball to exploit the spaces behind the opposition defence and set Hazard, Pedro and Willian free.
This would mean the entire defensive responsibility would fall on N’Golo and Conte would have to tell his wingbacks to stay back in support of the back three to shore up the defensive frailties. Chelsea would have to switch to a proper 5-2-3 formation and play solely on the counter-attack to take out matches. The likes of Hazard, Pedro, Willian will not only have to be ruthless but have to play out of their skin to beat entire defences on their own with no fullbacks for support.
A task that would certainly challenge a Chelsea team but the one thing we know about the Blues by now is that they always produce their best game just after their chances are completely written off. Last year’s title win should be proof enough.