Chelsea 3-1 Crystal Palace: Alvaro Morata growing out of "fragile" state into a more confident striker

 
Felix Keith
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Alvaro Morata is growing into his role as Chelsea's No1 striker (Source: Getty)

Normally when a striker spurns a one-on-one chance while clean through in the 93rd minute the reaction would be disappointment.


And while that emotion, plus plenty of stronger ones, were present inside Stamford Bridge as Alvaro Morata missed a glorious opportunity against Crystal Palace, the overriding thought was different.

With the score at 3-1 and with Morata having scored two of Chelsea’s goals, the Spanish striker found himself up against goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey.

To complete his hat-trick he opted for an audacious chip. Hennessey, all 6ft 4in of him, simply raised his arms to stop the ball. The chance, for both player and team, had been wasted but Morata’s choice of finish also indicated a wider point.

Morata has endured a largely difficult time since signing from Real Madrid for £60m in July 2017. But with Diego Costa gone, he is now embracing his role as Chelsea’s No1 striker.


His two goals against Palace reflected his growing presence, with a smartly-taken right-footed volley and low drilled left-footed shot taking him up to four goals in his last four Premier League games.

Improvement

The mere fact he had the confidence to attempt an ambitious scoop shows he’s now finally settled in west London. His manager, Maurizio Sarri, emphasised the point.

“He’s a little bit fragile from the mental point of view,” he said. “But he’s very young. I think he can improve very fast. Alvaro has improved during the last month – improved for the confidence, for the personality, also from the technical point of view. Now he’s able to play more with the team.”

While it was the two finishes of their striker which took the headlines, it was predictably Eden Hazard who changed the game. With the score at 1-1 after Morata’s opener and Andros Townsend’s well-taken equaliser from James McArthur’s through ball, Hazard took to the pitch in the 64th minute; 91 seconds later the Blues had the lead again.

Hazard’s arrival drew a heightened atmosphere from the crowd and a draw of breath from Palace. Both expected an impact, and so it arrived. Cheikhou Kouyate brought him down, he picked himself up and chipped in a free-kick which found Morata at the back post to make it 2-1.

However, with Hazard spending the majority of the game on the bench following a back injury, it was Pedro who led the charge for Chelsea. The former Barcelona man took on the chief creative role, setting up Morata for the first goal before tucking in the third from Marcos Alonso’s low cross.

Bleak run

For Palace it was a case of all too familiar themes continuing. The defeat leaves the Eagles without a win in six Premier League games, but manager Roy Hodgson is not worried – and he has a point.

Wilfried Zaha was once again a handful, and Townsend’s performance and goal playing alongside him in a 4-4-2 formation offers hope. Meanwhile, young right-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka was typically hardworking up against an array of difficult opponents.

But with Tottenham and Manchester United up next it’s looking like Palace’s bleak run might well continue. One fact which might allay fans’ fears, and was pointed out by Hodgson post-match, is the club’s recent history.

Palace have just eight points from their opening 11 matches, but tend to be slow starters, having occupied the bottom four places in four of the last five seasons, only to rally and survive the drop.

Last season Hodgson arrived in the middle of a seven-match losing streak and he doesn’t believe the situation is nearly as bad as before.

“The only similarity I see is that last year we were struggling and didn’t really look like getting results,” he said. “This year after matches we’re often left being somewhat surprised we haven’t got a result. There’s not been many teams that have actually outplayed us and that wasn’t the case in my first 10 games last year – we were outplayed on quite a few occasions.”

With flashes of encouragement and six sides below currently them despite no win since 15 September, for now perhaps Hodgson’s glass half full outlook is the correct one.

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