Morata hits groove as Hazard pulls strings to help Blues go second
Chelsea 3 Crystal Palace 1
So often Alvaro Morata has had a haunted, hunted look to him, struggling to cope with the Premier League it seems. However, the Chelsea striker scored two predatory goals to beat Crystal Palace yesterday and lift his unbeaten side up to second in the table.
Morata showed a killer instinct, even if he should have had a hat-trick as, in the dying seconds, he unwisely attempted to chip Palace goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey when clean through on goal. It was a flaky choice and Hennessey easily saved.
Well, Rome was not built in a day, Maurizio Sarri, Chelsea's Italian head coach, may have muttered to himself. But this was better from Morata and a testimony to why Chelsea hired Sarri: he works hard to improve players. Sarri also does not sugarcoat it.
Even so, Chelsea were not at their threatening best until Eden Hazard came on as a second-half substitute, having recovered from his back problem.
There is no truth to the rumour the injury was caused by Hazard having to carry Chelsea, but there is no denying they are a different, less potent team without him. His presence distracts opponents.
It is now four league goals for Morata in as many games - one more than he achieved in his previous 23 appearances. Now he has to sustain that.
Afterwards Sarri was asked to compare Morata to previous Chelsea strikers, such as Didier Drogba, but he said that there was no real comparison, even if the Spaniard can become a top striker.
This was certainly more like the return Chelsea expected from Morata when they signed him for £57m from Real Madrid last year as Diego Costa's replacement, even though it was revealing that Sarri also talked about him as a "very young" player. Morata is 26.
As for Sarri, an enthusiastic 'Maurizio' rang around Stamford Bridge after Chelsea's third goal and this result also means he has equalled Frank Clark's managerial record, set with Nottingham Forest in 1994, of being unbeaten in his first 11 games in the Premier League.
For Sarri, it is eight wins and three draws, as Chelsea went above Liverpool on goal difference and continue to hang on to Manchester City's coat-tails.
Even so, Palace will feel hard done by, as they seek to turn their campaign around. That will have been compounded by the nature of Chelsea's goals - a combination of good finishing and bad luck, but also poor defending.
Chelsea went ahead after half an hour, out of nothing. It was the kind of goal where the laws go against one team, with Palace, effectively, penalised for cutting out a cross. If the ball from Pedro ran through to Morata, he would have been ruled out for offside, but James Tomkins was not to know that as he dived to head away.
Unfortunately for Palace, Tomkins's attempted clearance went straight back to Pedro, who sent the ball in for Morata. He took a deft touch, swivelled and fired his shot low past Hennessey before Aaron Wan-Bissaka could cover.
Palace had set up as a 4-4-2, with Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend as their strikers, and it was the latter who finished a well-worked equalising goal early in the second half.
David Luiz was drawn towards the ball and was caught out as Townsend played a one-two and ran on to the return from James McArthur, before slamming a low right-footed shot across Kepa Arrizabalaga and into the net.
By then, Sarri had already sent Hazard and Mateo Kovacic - with Ross Barkley struggling - to warm up, as first Zaha and then Max Meyer went close. The Chelsea pair quickly came on. Before that, Luiz had met a Willian free-kick to force a smart save from Hennessey.
It was from the same position that Hazard took another free-kick, which was allowed by Tomkins and Mamadou Sakho to run through to Morata beyond the far post. He chested it down and finished well, past Hennessey and into the opposite corner, to restore the lead.
Palace were again at fault as Chelsea killed the game off. Pedro was allowed to latch on to Marcos Alonso's left-wing cross to steer an excellent first-time shot home.
It was only then a question of whether Chelsea would score more and Morata should have done as they countered from a Palace corner in injury-time.
Teed up by Hazard, he fluffed it.
But his contribution was crucial, his goals accomplished - even if he still had that hunted look because of his miss. (© Daily Telegraph, London)