SportSoccer

What can Chelsea expect from Michy Batshuayi?

SoccerBy Kevin Palmer
Batshuayi has plenty to prove at Chelsea
Batshuayi has plenty to prove at Chelsea

They have blown more than £100m on disastrously misfiring big-name strikers in recent years, yet Chelsea new-boy Michy Batshuayi is determined to buck the trend.

Belgian marksman Batshuayi is following in the footsteps of goal-scoring greats Hernan Crespo, Andrey Shevchenko and Fernando Torres after making a £33m move to Stamford Bridge, yet that trio of superstars serve as a reminder that shining as a marksman in Chelsea blue is no easy task. 

Batshuayi has been linked with a move to England’s top-flight clubs over the last two seasons, yet a few eyebrows were raised when Chelsea secured his services.

Crystal Palace and West Ham were among the ‘second tier’ clubs linked with a transfer splurge on Batshuayi, yet they stood no chance of landing the 22-year-old marksman once Chelsea started flexing their financial muscle.

After scoring 17 goals in the French league last season, this striker has much to prove at Chelsea and his manager suggests he is an investment for the future as well as the present.

“Michy is still young and even though he is already good now, the idea is to have him as a big part of Chelsea for a long time,” says new boss Antonio Conte.

“He’s a good player, great technique, and I am very happy to have him here.

“Also, I will say there will be no pressure on Michy from us. He knows he has time to settle and he will get his chances to show what he can do, but we realise he may need some time here.”

As Conte has experimented with more than one lead forward in his Chelsea line-up during their pre-season programme, the door is open for Batshuayi to earn a chance to prove his worth.

Chelsea’s glaring lack of a cutting edge was one of the main reasons why their title defence faltered in such disastrous fashion, with Diego Costa’s fall from grace complete as he struggled to lift his game throughout last season.

After a summer of speculation suggesting Costa (above) would return to Atletico Madrid, the Spain striker is still a Chelsea player and may well start in his side’s first game of the season against West Ham at Stamford Bridge.

Conte is ruthless enough to condemn Costa to bench-warming duties if his form and attitude are not transformed, with a viable option now waiting in the wings to replace him as leading man.

Brussels-born Batshuayi has Congolese heritage in his family and he made his name with Standard Liege as a teenager before earning his big move to Marseille in 2014.

That came after he had earned something of a reputation for being a bad boy in his formative days, with Anderlecht among the clubs walking away from his potential due to his poor attitude.

“They were right to kick me out. I wasn’t an angel, to say the least,” says Batshuayi, who has added maturity to his raw potential in the last couple of years.

A latecomer to Belgium’s Euro 2016 plans as he only made his international debut last year, Batshuayi scored in the 4-0 last-16 win against Hungary this summer.

Yet he was very much a bit-part player in a story that ultimately ended in disappointment for Marc Wilmots and his over-rated team.

Now comes Batshuayi’s biggest test, as he looks to have the kind of impact Didier Drogba had after his move from French football.

Comparisons with Drogba’s dynamic forward play have been aired time and again when Batshuayi is part of a debate and while he is not blessed with the same physical threat, he does boast impressive finishing power.

In addition, he adds an injection of pace to a Chelsea forward line that lacked dynamism last season.

Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas, Nemanja Matic, Diego Costa and Branislav Ivanovic are also under the spotlight as they look to rediscover former glories.

They find themselves accused of downing tools when the tide turned against them. There can be no bigger insult to a professional sportsman.

A dressing-room mutiny against boss Jose Mourinho, an alarming collapse in confidence and a shocking lack of desire ensured that Chelsea’s class of 2016 offered up the most lamentable title defence in history.

It’s an ugly claim to fame that Conte must hope will inspire his players to bounce back quickly.

Mourinho was the high-profile victim of a campaign that started badly and got progressively worse, yet it was the players he left behind who have battered reputations that need repairing.

It may be asking too much of Conte to transform their fortunes quickly, but their impressive Italian leader accepts he has to find a winning formula.

“When you are a player or the manager of a great club like Chelsea, the targets are very clear and you can’t escape,” adds Conte.

“The targets are the same. To fight to win or to fight to the end to win. It’s also important that the fans see our passion. Of course there is pressure for me and the players, but that is why we are here. If you do not want pressure, avoid big clubs like Chelsea.”

Conte and Chelsea may be thinking big, but the former champions are heading into this new campaign with hugely reduced expectations.

Batshuayi is about to get his chance to prove he is up to the task of becoming one of the bricks in Chelsea’s rebuilding operation.