Alvaro Morata was an undoubted success for Real Madrid last season, scoring 15 league goals in just 26 appearances – about half of which came from the bench – to finish the campaign as the team’s second highest-scorer in their successful title quest.
His strike rate was even more impressive, with those goals coming in only 1,330 minutes on the pitch – meaning he scored at a faster rate than any other Madrid player, including Cristiano Ronaldo.
Despite those impressive figures, however, Morata was never able to escape the status of understudy.
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Even though Karim Benzema suffered a poor season by his standards, whenever the big games rolled around the Frenchman was called upon by his compatriot coach Zinedine Zidane, leaving Morata frustrated on the bench.
The identity of the teams Morata got his goals against tells the tale: two against Granada, a hat-trick against Leganes, strikes against Deportivo La Coruna, Sporting Gijon, Espanyol, Alaves…a long line of lightweights were punished by Morata, but he failed to find the target against La Liga’s big guns, mainly because he was very rarely given the chance.
In fact, Morata only scored important goals against top-level opposition on two occasions: late winners to secure three points – which ultimately made a big contribution towards sealing the title – against Athletic Bilbao and Villarreal.
This is significant because it tells us exactly where Morata found himself in the Bernabeu pecking order, and exactly why he left: he was never more than a back-up, and with Zidane determined to land Kylian Mbappe as Benzema’s long-term successor he also knew that was never going to change.
So now, for the second time, Morata has strayed away from his homeland in an attempt to fully establish himself.
His first overseas adventure came between 2014 and 2016 at Juventus, where he was a partial success with 27 goals in two seasons including his team’s equaliser in the 2015 Champions League final loss against Barcelona.
But even in Italy, Morata was never able to truly confirm himself as an undisputed member of the starting eleven, only starting 27 league games over his two campaigns in Serie A and often finding himself on the bench behind Carlos Tevez and Mario Mandzukic.
To complete the set, Morata has endured a similar situation in the Spain international team, finding himself locked in a battle for the starter’s jersey with Diego Costa and Paco Alcacer which has still not been fully resolved.
Conte says playing Morata and Batshuayi together is an option, adding he wants to play the Spaniard as a no.9 this season. #CFC— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) August 4, 2017
So Morata’s career so far has been a curious one. He has played for two of the top teams in Europe, and one of the continent’s strongest international teams, and done quite well…but not extremely well, partly because none of his managers have ever trusted him enough to become one of their undisputed cornerstones.
A review of his technical capabilities is a similar story. He is quite quick, a decent finisher, holds up the ball and links play fairly well, is acceptably good in the air…again, everything he does is just about good enough, but nothing he does is really spectacular.
Now, of course, that must change. For the very first time in his career, Morata finds himself at a club where he has the full confidence of his coach, with Antonio Conte emphatically stating that he will be Chelsea’s starter up front this season.
With that elevated position comes an elevated sense of expectation. It will no longer be enough for Morata to come off the bench and plunder a couple of goals in a 5-0 home win against outclassed relegation contenders.
This season, Morata will have to play 90 minutes week after week in close and important games against some of the best teams in the world, and he will be under pressure to succeed.
It is a big opportunity, but also a big source of pressure. He looks good enough to come through with flying colours, but now he needs to prove it.