Can Conte Solve His Michy Batshuayi Problem?

 • by Dan Ludlam
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Whoever said a week in football is a long time must have been referring to Chelsea‘s young Belgian striker Michy Batshuayi.

On Tuesday night the 24-year-old was thrown on as the Blues attempted to clinch victory over Atlético Madrid in the Champions League.

Yet, in a remarkable turn of fortunes, the Belgium international found himself starting just 24 hours later as the Blues’ Under-23 side beat League One outfit MK Dons 4-0 in front of just 1,500 spectators at Stadium mk in the much-maligned Checkatrade Trophy.

Batshuayi scored twice for the Premier League outfit, who also included senior players Eduardo, Kenedy and Charly Musonda in a strong starting XI.

That brace completed a fairly tumultuous 24 hours for Batshuayi who will be back on the bench for Sunday’s trip to Southampton in the Premier League with Álvaro Morata preferred.

It has been the trend this season for Batshuayi whose last Premier League start coincided with a shock loss at previously winless Crystal Palace in October. He was hauled off before the hour at Selhurst Park having failed to shine.

But, a week later, he bagged two off the bench as the Blues came from 2-1 down to snatch a 4-2 victory over surprise package Watford.

Conte knows that the striker’s rawness will count against him at times but believes he is where he belongs in such a competitive Chelsea squad.

“Don’t forget Michy is a young player,” Conte admitted. “For him, this is the first experience with a big team and if you compare this season to last season, Michy now is playing.

“Against Crystal Palace his performance wasn’t good but it wasn’t only Batshuayi’s performance. The whole team played badly.”

Conte’s trust in the Belgian was most certainly justified. It wasn’t just the two goals he scored against Watford but his all-round game that posed significant problems to the Hornets defence.

With Chelsea struggling to create openings, and with Morata seemingly still short of match fitness, the onus was on Batshuayi to shoulder the burden and force Watford onto the back foot.

His physical presence proved too much to handle for a relatively untroubled Hornets rearguard and he was deservedly named man of the match, despite only playing half an hour.


“I have a squad and I trust all of my players,” Conte revealed. “I try and transfer this message to my players and the impact was incredible.

“He must continue in this way to work, work, work and to improve and he must also have the patience to understand that he must wait his moment. And when he has the chance he must show me that he is improving.

“But if you compare this season to last season, you can see that Batshuayi is playing a lot. Last season he barely played.”

With Chelsea expected to compete on four fronts this season, Batshuayi will certainly be afforded the minutes he was perhaps lacking last term.

A lot has been made of the champions’ thin squad and, with Morata the only other first-team striker, the 24-year-old is likely to get chances to lead the attack.

But he must contend with the pressure of leading the line for such a big club and force Conte’s hand in selecting him from the start.

There’s no doubting the former Marseille frontman possesses the qualities to cause any defence in the league problems but performing on a consistent basis remains his Achilles heel.

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In his first season with the Blues he bagged nine goals in all competitions, including the title-clinching winner at West Brom back in April.

Having notched seven goals already this season, his value to the champions has certainly risen.

Statistically, the Chelsea frontman is actually one of the most lethal strikers to have graced the Premier League.

Despite only scoring seven times in the English top flight, Batshuayi’s goals-per-game ratio of a goal every 61.71 minutes sets him apart from a number of the league’s top strikers.

Among those who have netted at least five Premier League goals, nobody has scored more often – and that includes legends such as Thierry Henry, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Sergio Agüero.

Batshuayi is certainly not the complete article as far as Conte is concerned but the Italian trusts the Belgian to perform on a more consistent basis.

The Blues are already facing a tough ask to retain their Premier League title but with four competitions up for grabs this season, Batshuayi has an integral part to play.

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