The day after Diego Costa flew to Atletico Madrid after sealing his £58m move, his replacement, Alvaro Morata, scored a hat-trick in Chelsea’s 4-0 rout of Stoke City to mark the dawning of a new era at the champions.
The hat-trick was the first by a Chelsea player in the Premier League since Costa’s in September 2014, but the second in a week for the Blues after Michy Batshuayi’s treble in England’s domestic EFL Cup against Nottingham Forest last Wednesday. Morata’s opener against Stoke came on two minutes when he was put through by a long ball over the top. Choosing his moment perfectly, the striker took one touch before planting a right-foot shot past keeper Jack Butland inside the post.
For his second, Morata exploited an error by Glen Johnson near the halfway line to outpace his pursuers and dink the ball clinically over Butland from a tight angle on 77 minutes before completing his hat-trick five minutes later on the stretch after good work from Cesar Azpilicueta.
“I am pleased for Alvaro’s performance, pleased for the performance of the team. Now he has to continue this way to be a great striker,” said manager Antonio Conte, who on Friday showed himself so enamoured by his new striker that he said he was the sort of polite young man any father would like his daughter to marry.
On Saturday Conte’s words were more prosaic but equally heartfelt. “This game is very difficult — I remember last season. I think Alvaro played very well. He scored three goals. For a striker, that’s important. Michy did the same versus Forest.”
Morata’s goals will surely now end all talk of Costa, who has dominated much of Chelsea’s narrative this year. Saturday’s hat-trick crowned an impressive all-round performance in which Morata held the ball up well, showed excellent control and took his goals clinically.
Costa without the attitude, in other words.
Morata’s record after six games is six goals and two assists. Costa also contributed to eight goals in his first six games, suggesting that Chelsea have lost nothing of their potency since his departure.
And just like Costa, Morata was back in his own area heading balls to safety when required.
Chelsea remain three points behind leaders Manchester City, who they play at Stamford Bridge in what could be one of the season’s formative games next Saturday.
“I think we have to be focused at what we do and not others,” said Conte. “We want to fight in every competition we are playing.”