Chelsea’s prob­lem is strik­ing – they are lack­ing op­tions

Mo­rata in­jury ex­poses Conte’s lack of at­tack­ers as he fields seven mid­field­ers. Matt Law re­ports

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Sport | Premier League -

An­to­nio Conte was ac­cused of send­ing mes­sages dur­ing the early weeks of the season when he loaded his sub­sti­tutes’ bench with young­sters and fringe play­ers as the clock ticked down to­wards the end of the trans­fer window.

In re­al­ity his hand had largely been forced by fit­ness is­sues and sus­pen­sions back in Au­gust, but there was no room for mis­in­ter­pret­ing Conte’s mes­sage when he opted to re­place striker Al­varo Mo­rata with Wil­lian.

Mo­rata pulled up with a ham­string in­jury in the 35th minute and Conte’s change meant Chelsea ef­fec­tively had seven mid­field­ers on the pitch against Manch­ester City, while the mid­week Cham­pi­ons League hero Michy Bat­shuayi sat on the sub­sti­tutes’ bench with his hood up.

Bat­shuayi even­tu­ally got on with just un­der 20 min­utes re­main­ing, but he was once again the last throw of the dice for Chelsea.

Conte doesn’t mind look­ing to­wards Bat­shuayi for a vi­tal last-gasp win­ner, as he pro­vided against West Bromwich Al­bion, to clinch last season’s Pre­mier League ti­tle, and Atletico Madrid on Wed­nes­day night.

But he does not ap­pear to trust the Bel­gian for any pro­longed amount of time against the very best teams and Mo­rata’s in­jury high­lighted the fact Conte feels he is short of striker op­tions after miss­ing out on Fer­nando Llorente.

Llorente would have cer­tainly been re­lied upon to take over from Mo­rata, but Chelsea were beaten to his sig­na­ture by Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur.

Just as Mauri­cio Po­chet­tino would over­look Vin­cent Jansen to ask He­ung-Min Son to deputise for Harry Kane last season, Conte put a round peg in a square hole in Chelsea’s big­gest game of the season so far.

Po­chet­tino now has Llorente at his dis­posal if Kane suf­fers an in­jury or needs a rest, but Conte sim­ply can­not af­ford to lose Mo­rata for any length of time be­tween now and Jan­uary, when he can try again to get a deputy he trusts.

Mo­rata had scored seven goals in his first seven games after ar­riv­ing at Chelsea for a club record £57mil­lion from Real Madrid, but Conte took a risk start­ing him against City.

The Spa­niard had limped his way out of Atletico’s Wanda Metropoli­tano sta­dium and was caught by tele­vi­sion cam­eras feel­ing his ham­string be­fore kick-off at Stam­ford Bridge.

That in it­self un­der­lines how heav­ily Conte and Chelsea will rely on Mo­rata dur­ing the first half of the season. Bat­shuayi’s best per­for­mances for the Blues have all come from the bench, rather than as a starter.

How Conte must have en­vied Pep Guardi­ola, who could call on Gabriel Je­sus after Ser­gio Aguero had been ruled out after suf­fer­ing bro­ken ribs in a car crash. With no fo­cal point in at­tack, Chelsea were very much forced into smash-and-grab mode and were un­able to dom­i­nate the game as they had done so im­pres­sively in the Cham­pi­ons League.

Wil­lian at­tempted to re­lieve some of the pres­sure on Chelsea’s de­fence by trying a pass over the top, but there was sim­ply no­body there to chase it.

Bat­shuayi had al­ready stripped off to go on when Kevin De Bruyne opened the scor­ing in the 67th minute and when he even­tu­ally trot­ted on the pitch it was with Pe­dro, as Conte looked to inject some at­tack­ing in­tent into his team.

But, as has so of­ten been the case, Bat­shuayi barely touched the ball and when he did he failed to hold it up. Conte must hope Mo­rata comes back quickly and stays fit.

Conte does not ap­pear to trust Bat­shuayi for any pro­longed amount of time against the best teams

Off day: Al­varo Mo­rata limps off in the first half with a sus­pected ham­string in­jury

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