Can Alvaro Morata be prolific for Chelsea? Talking points from win over Crystal Palace

Alvaro Morata produced a match-winning double against Crystal Palace but can he score the goals Chelsea need to sustain a title challenge? Peter Smith picks out the talking points from the Blues’ latest win…

It is 11 games unbeaten in the Premier League for Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea after they came through to win 3-1 over Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge.

That successful run, a joint-record for a new manager to the division, underlines the impressive impact the Italian boss has had in west London and Chelsea look like title contenders once more.

Here, from Alvaro Morata’s morale-boosting double and another positive performance from Marcos Alonso, to Eden Hazard’s latest masterclass and a midfield puzzle for the manager to ponder, we pick out talking points from Chelsea’s win…

Morata back among the goals

Chelsea are up to second in the Premier League table and could capitalise on any slip-up from leaders Manchester City in the derby next Sunday. But if they are to sustain a title challenge this season they will need a prolific frontman to weigh in with the goals alongside the genius of Eden Hazard.

The challenge for Alvaro Morata is to be that man – and Chelsea supporters will be hoping his double to down Crystal Palace on Sunday, which took his Premier League tally to four goals in four games, can give him the confidence to go on a scoring streak.

It has been a year since the Spaniard scored in back-to-back league games for the Blues and even longer since he found the net twice in the same Premier League game, but a first-half snapshot and well-taken second 25 minutes from time backed up his effort at Burnley last time out and showed a glimpse of the quality the former Real Madrid and Juventus striker possesses.

There was a certain inevitability about him spurning his hat-trick chance in injury-time, though, and his glum reaction to the miss shows his string of wasted opportunities in 2018 – sparked by a day to forget at Arsenal in January – weigh heavy on him.

He will have to shake that mentality and show more of the impressive finishing skills he put on display against Palace in the coming months if he is to keep Olivier Giroud out of the frame and be Chelsea’s main man this term.

Highlights from Chelsea's 3-1 win over Crystal Palace in the Premier League.

Hazard’s instant impact

It was some luxury for Maurizio Sarri to turn to his bench and call upon Eden Hazard midway through the second half, with his side pegged back and being held by Crystal Palace. The Belgian may have missed Chelsea’s past three matches with a back problem and only had a couple of days training under his belt, but his introduction changed the mood.

In his first 91 seconds on the field, he took the ball deep into Palace territory by exchanging passes with Morata, N’Golo Kante and Pedro, won a free-kick, dusted himself off and curled the ball to the back post for Morata to fire Chelsea back in front.

It was a perfect example of the energy he brings to this Chelsea team, his skill when shielding the ball from opponents – “he protects the ball brilliantly,” said Sky Sports pundit Alan Smith – and his quality deliveries into the danger zone.

That’s 11 goal involvements in his past 10 Premier League appearances for Hazard now, (seven goals, four assists). Chelsea become a better team when he is on the field.

Alonso’s attacking threat

In the build-up to this contest, Jamie Carragher, in MNF Extra, praised Marcos Alonso’s attacking contributions but warned he would have to improve defensively if he is to master the switch from left wing-back under Antonio Conte to left-back under Sarri.

While Alonso made more tackles than any other player on the pitch on Sunday, that side of his game will be more rigorously tested by Tottenham and Manchester City in the coming weeks. Instead, against Palace, he was able to show what he can do in the advanced positions Sarri allows him to roam into.

Most chances created – Premier League defenders 2018/19

Only Jorginho had more touches of the ball, underlining Alonso’s influence on Chelsea’s play, and only the Italian had more touches in the opposition half. With all that involvement, Alonso launched a game-high five crosses into the box and teed up Pedro for Chelsea’s third.

Remarkably, that third assist of the season for Alonso means he has exceeded his Premier League tally for last season in just 11 run outs this term. It is unlikely to be the last as his importance to this team – who he has just signed a new contract for – continues to grow.

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Midfield question for Sarri

Given Kante’s impact on the Premier League with Leicester and Chelsea, it is perhaps an odd sight to see him shifted into a less familiar role under Sarri, further forward in midfield, charged with creating chances and shuttling the ball in advanced areas, rather than just winning it back.

The purpose of the change is to allow Sarri’s midfield mastermind Jorginho to sit in front of the backline and dictate play like a quarter-back, as he did so successfully at Napoli. With Chelsea on such a successful run of results, it is clearly a move which is working.

But with the playmaking ability of Cesc Fabregas and Mateo Kovacic on the bench, could Sarri be tempted to turn to a more accomplished ball-player than Kante when Chelsea are struggling to find a way through against the likes of Palace? Or alternatively swap Kante back into the holding role when the going gets tough?

“Sarri clearly wants Jorginho as that pivot, that Andrea Pirlo figure if you like, getting the team onto the front foot,” said Sky Sports’ Alan Smith. “But what you do lack then is the defensive nous, the ability to dash across 10 yards, as we saw Kante do so often over the last couple of years, and get his foot in.”

It is a question which Sarri will have to answer down the line – but for now, he is no doubt delighted to have the options he has at his disposal.

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