Álvaro Morata finally gets to be the man

For a long time, Álvaro Morata has been touted as one of the finest young attacking talents in world football. But at only 24, he's already been tossed from pillar to post — or from boyhood club Real Madrid to Juventus and back again — before making this summer’s big move to Chelsea. Despite flickers of promise, the Spaniard has yet to really establish himself as the elite player he once looked like he was becoming. It’ll be fascinating to see whether he can finally make that step up this season, which he heads into as the Blues’ main striker.

Why you'll love watching him

Reports earlier in the summer suggested that Chelsea boss Antonio Conte wanted Everton’s Romelu Lukaku to replace Diego Costa, and settled upon Morata only after the Belgian opted to move to Manchester United instead. True or not, the fact remains that Morata is a different kind of forward compared to Lukaku, and they certainly shouldn’t be considered interchangeable. Chelsea are getting a very different kind of forward — for better or for worse.

Whereas Lukaku is more in the mold of the traditional goalscoring No. 9, feeding off scraps in the penalty area, Morata’s game is based around a greater contribution to the team’s build-up play. Unlike the Belgian, Morata can often be seen playing with his back to goal, acting as a foil for his teammates to run beyond. It's a skill backed up by an impressive passing ability, evidenced in the handful of assists he notched while playing for Madrid last season. Morata is undoubtedly a fine technician, and Eden Hazard in particular will be relishing the prospect of playing alongside the selfless Spaniard in the upcoming campaign.

What’s more, despite his fine technique, Morata certainly doesn’t want for physicality. Though he’s not lightning quick, he’s certainly no slouch, and his towering frame ensures he's invariably a handful for opposition defenders. The only question that remains is whether he’ll be able to match the prolific tally of Diego Costa — a player whose sheer scoring instinct is more aligned with that of Lukaku. If Morata is going to come up short anywhere, it’s in front of goal. He’s not the finest finisher, and occasionally seems to lack the pure striking instinct of other top forwards.

Morata scored 15 goals for Real Madrid last season, but never before — with the exception of his time with Madrid’s B team — has he netted more than eight in a single league campaign. Chelsea will be relying upon a considerably greater contribution than that, and seeing how he handles the burden of being the main man for the first time in his career will be fascinating.

How much did he cost?

According to the BBC, Morata set Chelsea back an £60 million transfer fee — at least £15m, and potentially as much as £30m less than Lukaku cost United. It’s a figure that rather reflects the fact that Morata remains pretty unproven at an elite level, despite featuring regularly for two top teams in the Champions League over the last few seasons. However, in the current market, it’s a pretty good deal for Chelsea, and if Morata does go on to score plenty of goals this season, it’ll go down as a great one.

Wage-wise, Morata is reportedly picking up £150,000 — that’s some £100,000 a week cheaper than what Lukaku is reportedly costing United. By contrast, Chelsea’s highest-paid player is Eden Hazard, who is currently on £200,000 a week. Once again the Morata deal looks like a pretty good one — though of course, that’s with the caveat that he does perform on the pitch.

Worth the money?

The honest if unsatisfactory answer is we really do have to wait and see. Álvaro Morata has only ever been the bridesmaid, though this summer his wedding has finally come around. How he’ll cope with the added pressure remains to be seen. Let’s hope he doesn’t lose his nerve at the altar -- things could get very ugly indeed. Hell hath no fury like an Antonio Conte scorned.

Diego Costa — whose future remains undecided, but seems certain to be away from Chelsea — may not have been particularly popular at Stamford Bridge, especially among the coaching staff, but filling his boots will be no easy task for Morata. Costa has been one of the Premier League’s most consistent goalscorers since arriving from Atlético Madrid, and letting him go would be a very bold move indeed.

However, with Chelsea's only other pure centre-forward on the squad being the inexperienced Michy Batshuayi, it really is time for Morata to stand up and be counted. On paper, he’s got the makings of a seriously good player; now it’s time he showed it on the pitch. If he scores 20 goals in the league this season, he’ll look like a bargain; if he struggles to better his previous tallies, Chelsea could be back in the market for another striker this time next summer.

Main photo: Photo by Thananuwat Srirasant/Getty Images for ICC