Instead of celebrating, Morata, who has struggled for form, appeared downbeat after scoring the decisive goal to maintain the Blues’ 100% start in Group L. Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri says he wants to see Alvaro Morata “cry very often” after his goal saw off Hungarian champions Vidi in the Europa League.
“It’s very important for him to score,” Sarri said. “He played a very good match. I think Alvaro can restart from this performance. “If after a goal he wants to cry, I hope to see him cry very often.”
Despite dominating both territory and possession, it took the second-half arrival of substitute Eden Hazard to add spark to a Chelsea team frustrated for long periods. And Morata, who had earlier missed a glorious chance, capitalised on some extra space by sweeping in Willian’s flick from a Cesc Fabregas pass. It ended a miserable run for the 25-year-old, who had managed just one goal from nine previous outings this season.
The hosts were unable to add to their lead and had goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga to thank for preserving the three points when he turned away Istvan Kovacs’ drive late on. The result ensured the 2013 Europa League winners top the group with six points, having beaten PAOK Salonika in Greece in their opening fixture last month.
Morata’s misery subsides
If one player epitomised Chelsea’s early frustration in attack it was Morata, whose performance, particularly in the first half, continued in the same vein as against PAOK. The Spaniard had seven shots in the Blues’ first group game without any finding the target and he managed another five against the Hungarians before finally getting on the scoresheet.
And his close-range miss early on, when he horribly miscued a chip over Vidi goalkeeper Tomas Tujvel, smacked of a player short of confidence.
Morata has already featured in three Champions League finals, winning two with Real Madrid and scoring in the other when he was on the losing side with Juventus, but goals have dried up for him since his impressive start at Stamford Bridge last term when he scored seven goals in his first seven games.
And a return of five goals from 32 appearances since the start of 2018 has done little to justify the £60m spent to prise him away from Real Madrid. Yet with Chelsea’s front-line options constrained to Olivier Giroud and Morata, an upturn in the Spain international’s form could prove crucial to Sarri this season.
“At the moment we have Alvaro and Giroud but we have to play every three days for a long time, I think, I hope,” Sarri added. “And so he’s a very important player for us, for our season.”
Loftus-Cheek’s big night
Having spent last season on loan at Crystal Palace, this game represented Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s first start for Chelsea since January 2017, when the Blues defeated Brentford in the FA Cup.
Hampered by an early-season injury, the 22-year-old midfielder had been limited to just two substitute appearances, meaning that before kick-off he had managed more minutes for England (61) than the Blues (31) this term.
In that time he has also had to watch fellow Chelsea youngster Mason Mount impress on loan at Championship side Derby County, earning himself a spot in Gareth Southgate’s latest England squad.
While Loftus-Cheek’s lack of action precluded him from inclusion, he did enough against Vidi to suggest he will be given more opportunities by manager Maurizio Sarri.
His power in possession set Brazilian winger Willian away early on and a slaloming run between three defenders gave Chelsea a valid claim for a first-half penalty when he was brought down by Vidi defender Stopira.
Man of the match – Cesc Fabregas (Chelsea)
We didn’t play well’ – what they said:
Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri told BT Sport: “For Alvaro Morata, it’s very important to score and very important to play well too for the team like he did in this match.
“I don’t think we played well, we have done a good offensive phase and had a lot of ball opportunities but we conceded too much.
“We have to play every three days, it is very difficult and so we have to have a great mentality. There is a risk to arrive at a match without the mental power and energy. I am very happy with my squad.
“It is a very important in this period of the season to get results, it is not easy but I will have to change a lot players for Southampton and it is not easy to prepare the next match tomorrow – a lot of players will be tired.”
Chelsea’s momentum builds – the stats
- Chelsea are now unbeaten in 10 games in all competitions this season (W8 D2), since losing their opening fixture against Manchester City in the Community Shield.
- Willian has been directly involved in five goals in his last six games for Chelsea in European competitions, scoring four and assisting one.
- Vidi haven’t won any of their last seven away Uefa Cup/Europa League matches, drawing one and losing six since winning 1-0 against Real Madrid in the second leg of the 1984-85 UEFA Cup final.
- Chelsea mustered 27 shots in the game, last attempting more in a game in all competitions in May 2017 against Sunderland in the Premier League (28).
- Chelsea have never lost a single home European match (excluding qualifiers) in a competition other than the Champions League (P36 W29 D7 L0).
- Chelsea striker Alvaro Morata finally scored his first Europa League goal of the season with his 14th attempt and only his second on target.
Chelsea travels to Southampton on Sunday (14:15 BST) in the Premier League. They resume Europa League duties when they host Bate Borisov on Thursday, 25 October (20:00 BST).