Michy Batshuayi's hit-and-miss display against Brighton the perfect example of why he's heading for the Chelsea exit

The Belgian striker wants to leave Chelsea to save his place for this summer's World Cup, but his display at Brighton showed why Antonio Conte finds it so hard to trust him

Nick Miller
Sunday 21 January 2018 16:01
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Michy Batshuayi could leave Chelsea this month after manager Antonio Conte lost patience with the striker
Michy Batshuayi could leave Chelsea this month after manager Antonio Conte lost patience with the striker

What was your reaction when you heard Chelsea were reportedly interested in Andy Carroll? And what about Peter Crouch? Baffled? Amused? Angry? Flooded with a sudden, belated appreciation of Michael Emenalo’s work?

Now imagine what Michy Batshuayi though. The Belgian striker is reportedly – and understandably – keen to get away from Chelsea, in order to get some regular football ahead of the World Cup. So any move sounds like it will be driven by him. But even so, the knowledge that Chelsea may rather have the perennially-injured Carroll or the 36(nearly 37)-year-old Crouch, five goals between them all season and neither guaranteed starters at West Ham and Stoke, must be a kick in the pants.

That Batshuayi might be on his way out is a consequence of how little Antonio Conte seems to trust him. Indeed, even with Alvaro Morata and Pedro suspended, it was a mild surprise that Conte picked Batshuayi for Saturday’s 4-0 win over Brighton. Batshuayi only seems to get in Conte’s team by default.

“For me Michy is a Chelsea player,” said Conte, not for the first time offering a less than full-throated backing of the forward. “In my mind there is the will to continue to work with him and to try to improve.” Conte said this with a straight face, but frankly he might as well have spread his arms and said “Look, he’s all we’ve got.”

The problem Batshuayi has is that even when he plays well, he shows why Conte is so unconvinced. On a few occasions against Brighton Batshuayi combined with his genius countryman Eden Hazard beautifully, delicate and whip smart touches that would create problems for defences much better than Brighton’s.

He’s capable of smart movement off the ball too: watch Hazard’s second goal once and you’ll see a defence meekly retreating as if the ball at his feet was infected with smallpox. Watch it twice and you’ll see the space for Hazard created as Brighton players are sent to Eastbourne in one direction and Bognor Regis the other by runs from Willian and Batshuayi.

But there were also moments when Conte’s opinion will have been strengthened. It seemed that whenever Batshuayi was given options, and time to consider them, he made errors. At one point in the first-half he picked the ball up on the right, Hazard and Willian buzzing either side of him, the Brighton defence again panic-stricken.

Antonio Conte does not seem to trust Batshuayi unless he's forced to play him

Instead of either passing to one of his colleagues or driving forward with purpose, Batshuayi held onto the ball for too long and passed to nobody out on the left wing. Like a parent who’d seen this one too many times, Conte didn’t look angry, just disappointed. It feels churlish but necessary to point out that, at the end of the aforementioned run for Hazard’s second, Batshuayi fell over.

Conte has a consistent refrain when it comes to his striker(s). “In my idea of football, we need a striker who must be a point of reference,” he said. “Batshuayi played a really good game – he didn’t score, but he worked well for the team. He did what I asked him to do. To repeat, a No 9 is an important player - I want him to be a point of reference to our team. Today I’m very satisfied with Batshuayi.”

But it seems relatively clear that he regards this as the exception rather than the rule. The thing about a point of reference is you know where it is and what it’s going to do. Someone to rely upon and allow Hazard, Willian, Pedro or whoever else plays up front to bounce and buzz off them. It is consistent. Batshuayi has shown flashes of excellence – those crucial late winners against Atletico this season and West Brom last, two goals off the bench against Watford – which have been surrounded by acres of mediocrity.

Conte didn’t seem especially shy about admitting Batshuayi might be on his way. “I don’t know if the player decides to take another solution or if he wants to play with regularity. If you are in a team like Chelsea you know you find a lot of good players. Otherwise you decide to stay in a medium team or low team and probably you can play every game.”

View that as a dig at Batshuayi if you like. But it seems that perhaps his last start for Chelsea will be one in which he did everything his manager told him to, didn’t score and at the same time showed exactly why he might be leaving. That seems quite fitting.

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