In one of the strangest twists of the transfer window so far, Álvaro Morata could be set for a return to Chelsea.
The 26-year-old hitman rediscovered his form following a loan move to Atlético Madrid in January and was expected to stay in the Spanish capital for at least another season after the two clubs agreed an 18-month deal.
However, according to The Telegraph, Chelsea are prepared to cut short the move if the LaLiga club don’t make the move permanent this summer.
The Blues added a clause in the deal which allowed them to prematurely end the loan if Atleti failed to part with the £50million they agreed to pay to make him a full-time member of Diego Simeone’s squad.
It leaves Atlético in a bit of a predicament. They’re expected to officially reveal João Félix in the coming days having agreed to pay his £112million release clause. The Portuguese wonderkid is tipped to replace Antoine Griezmann in attack with the World Cup winner reportedly destined for the Camp Nou.
The Spanish side aren’t short of cash; they have already sold Lucas Hernandez to Bayern Munich while Rodri is close to sealing a £60million move to Manchester City. But funds are earmarked for replacements, and forking out £50million for Morata perhaps wasn’t part of the plan this summer.
It would be a serious blow for Atleti if Chelsea were to recall the Spain international, but it could be a blessing in disguise for the Blues.
Having sold Eden Hazard and sent Gonzalo Higuaín back to Juventus, Chelsea have limited options in attack. Tammy Abraham is untested at the top level, Olivier Giroud isn’t getting any younger and there are question marks over whether Michy Batshuayi can deliver for a team chasing Champions League football.
And with a transfer ban in place, there isn’t much those at Stamford Bridge can do to bolster those options. But Morata’s potential return is an intriguing prospect.
Especially if, as expected, Frank Lampard fills the vacant hot seat. It’d be a fresh start under a manager who puts a lot of emphasis on the striker in his system.
The video above details how the Chelsea legend set up his Derby County side and why the centre forward was key to everything the Rams did well. Unlike the majority of coaches, Lampard asks his No.9 to stay high up the pitch so the centre-backs are pinned and there’s space for attacking midfielders to push into.
The likes of Antonio Conte, Maurizio Sarri and even José Mourinho all tasked their forwards with dropping deep to allow the wide forwards to fill the space. In essence, Lampard wants the complete opposite.
This tactical tweak plays to Morata’s strengths. The former Real Madrid forward was never a target man. The urge has always been to use the 6ft 2ins striker as a man to hold the ball up and bring others into play, but he’s actually got much more to his game than that.
He’s not a cumbersome No.9, he’s actually a selfless runner who occupies an entire defensive line if given the opportunity.
Deployed in a two-man attack alongside Griezmann at Atleti, Morata thrived by doing a lot more off the ball and getting into the penalty area at every given opportunity. He’d run the channels and create space for his strike partner.
He’d still drop deep on occasion but it was to allow Griezmann and runners from wide areas to get beyond him, but that was a clear tactic. The point to take from this is how willing he was to effectively put himself out. It’s the sort of thing Lampard demands from his striker.
The 41-year-old tactician wants his forward to stay high but he won’t want him to be stationary. Morata’s horizontal movement across the final third could be just what is required.
The Spaniard might not seem like the ideal fit but while Abraham, Giroud and Batshuayi all rely on service into the area, Morata does a lot more work elsewhere in order to bring others into play.
What Lampard will want from him isn’t too dissimilar to what he was doing at Juventus when he was tasked with ensuring Paul Pogba and Arturo Vidal had space to attack and Carlos Tevez had room to operate in.
It’s clear in the image above. A ball is played from midfield into Tevez. The forward had dropped a little deep and onto the Borussia Dortmund right-back while Morata has made a run close to the centre-backs.
It kept both of them occupied and created space, circled above, for Roberto Pereyra and Vidal to attack. The ball is eventually worked out wide to the left for Pogba who crosses for Morata to score from close range.
Had the No.9 not made the initial run to stretch play then this opportunity wouldn’t have come about and could’ve been easily smothered by the Germans.
Morata might not want to return to Chelsea, but he might actually be the perfect striker for the Lampard system.