It’s been an indifferent pre-season for Chelsea so far.
The Blues followed up a 3-0 win over Premier League counterparts Arsenal with a 3-2 defeat at the hands of Bayern Munich – with a 2-1 defeat to Inter Milan following those.
One constant for Chelsea, though, has been Michy Batshuayi’s rich vein of form. The Belgian made the move to Stamford Bridge 12 months ago and while he struggled for game time, he still scored the decisive goal that secured the Premier League title with a 1-0 win at West Brom.
Batshuayi netted every 47.8 minutes in the Premier League last season, which was the second best return of players to score five or more goals in Europe’s top five leagues.
While Chelsea needed a new first choice frontman to replace Diego Costa, who is expected to return to Atletico Madrid before the close of the transfer window, a backup for Alvaro Morata remains vital in the wake of their return to the Champions League.
Batshuayi is staking a claim to start ahead of the Spaniard, having netted three goals in three pre-season games at the time of writing, but for the money spent to secure his services, Morata can be expected to be Chelsea’s main man this season.
It’s a very real predicament for head coach Antonio Conte. Batshuayi needs regular first team action in order to realise his immense potential, yet Morata is a player the Italian has wanted to work with since signing him for Juventus in 2014 before taking over as Italy boss.
While the former’s fine form on their pre-season tour could convince Conte to keep the youngster at Chelsea this season, a loan move where he is guaranteed to be first choice would be a better fit for the Marseille man’s development.
This, though, leaves Chelsea short of striking options and should Morata succumb to injury or suspension, then Conte would be left up a certain creek without a paddle.
Indeed, the Blues have been linked with a move for a backup striker this summer as a means to not only provide competition for Morata, but step up where required to ease the burden on the 24-year-old. The two stand out candidates are rumoured to be Fernando Llorente and Christian Benteke of Swansea and Crystal Palace, respectively.
Chelsea were heavily linked with a move for Llorente in January, while Benteke would make for a solid second choice striker for the defending champions, bolstering the Belgian contingent in the process.
Both forwards would undoubtedly make for astute backups for Morata, if Batshuayi does secure a temporary move away, but there’s a reason why Chelsea should pursue Llorente and not Benteke.
That isn’t to criticise Benteke in any way. The Belgium international is one of the toughest strikers to defend against in the Premier League and he proved his worth time and time again for Crystal Palace last season on the back of his record move to Selhurst Park.
15 goals for a Palace side that averaged just 8.2 key passes per game was a notable record for Benteke and while the striker may supposedly be interested in a move to Stamford Bridge, to do so in a World Cup year would be a huge detriment to his career.
On the back of Romelu Lukaku’s big money move to Manchester United, Benteke needs regular first team action in order to convince head coach Roberto Martinez he warrants a place in the starting XI ahead of his compatriot.
He wouldn’t get this at Chelsea, while Palace would demand to at least recoup the fee – thought to be £27m – they paid to secure his services from Liverpool.
Swansea may be commanding £30m for Llorente, but that comes as little shock given his importance for the Swans and his influence as they staved off relegation.
15 Premier League goals in his debut season was a commendable return for the experienced Spanish forward, while only Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud (30.8%) had a better conversion rate than Llorente (28.8%) of the 21 players to score 10 or more top-flight goals last term.
It’s no shock Swansea are reluctant to sell their star striker, but even with the south Wales side demanding such a hefty fee for the 32-year-old, chances are Llorente would be a cheaper alternative to Benteke.
There is also little chance of the former Sevilla forward being called up to Spain’s World Cup squad next summer, meaning that, while Llorente would prefer regular game time having been first choice for Swansea last season, it’s not as immediately imperative he start week in, week out as it would be for Benteke.
No player scored more headed goals than Llorente (7), incidentally level with Benteke, in the Premier League last season, so as a plan-B forward, Chelsea could do a lot worse than the towering Spaniard.
Importantly, though, is that Llorente is well-versed in Conte’s managerial demands as the two worked together for a season with Juventus, while his second campaign with the Old Lady saw him work alongside Morata.
The duo may have rarely featured on the pitch together, but their time on the training field will have served both players well. There is now an opportunity for the two strikers to play for the same team once more and Llorente would serve as a solid backup for Morata.
Of course, Conte could resist the temptation to bring in a new striker and instead place greater faith in Batshuayi, but if he elects to instead loan him out, Llorente would be the more viable option of he and Benteke.
Even if he sets Chelsea back £30m, Llorente would be an effective alternative for Morata and allow for the Blues to implement a more direct approach when the going gets tough.
After a year in England, Llorente is accustomed to the physical demands of the Premier League and Chelsea could certainly utilise a striker of his talents to successfully defend their top-flight crown.