Alvaro Morata PHOTO:Twitter
Antonio Conte says the loss of Alvaro Morata for Chelsea’s trip to Everton is a blow to his side’s hopes of maintaining their distant pursuit of Premier League leaders Manchester City.
Morata was booked after scoring the added-time winning goal in the midweek League Cup quarter-final victory over Bournemouth that set up a semi-final meeting with Arsenal.
The Spain striker, who had come off the bench, initially stuck the ball under his shirt in a gesture to his pregnant wife but he earned the caution for kicking the ball away as Bournemouth attempted to restart the game quickly.
It was Morata’s fifth booking of the season, earning the forward a one-game ban and leaving Conte with a decision to make about how best to replace his side’s leading scorer.
Michy Batshuayi is the squad’s only other recognised central striker but the Belgian failed to impress after being handed a rare start this week. Previously, Conte has preferred to fill the gap by employing Eden Hazard as a false nine and he is expected to do that once again.
“For sure, Morata should have played against Everton,” said the Chelsea boss. “He would have started the game, for sure. But now I have to prepare a different plan.
“I have different options. I have a day to make the best decision ahead of the Everton game. At training everyone was in good form, and I have time to make a decision.”
Chelsea remain 14 points adrift of City in third place and the current priority is to maintain the four-point gap to fourth place.
“This match is very important for us, the last game before Christmas,” said Conte. “I’d like to spend a good Christmas with a good game, a good win.
“It would be very important to get three points, but we know very well that, in the last five games, Everton won four games.
“They are in a good moment of form. They changed the coach and are having good results. For this reason, we must pay great attention on Saturday.”
Everton have picked up 13 points from 15 available since Sam Allardyce agreed to become their manager last month.
That run has lifted the club to ninth, with 11 league goals scored and only two conceded in that time.
Former England captain Wayne Rooney is also enjoying a revival, with six goals in his past five appearances, including one on Monday as Everton beat Swansea 3-1 at Goodison Park.
Winger Aaron Lennon suggested that Allardyce’s arrival has lifted the mood of the players.
“We all know Chelsea are a great side but we’re in a good run of form and at Goodison we fancy our chances against anyone so we’re looking forward to that one,” Lennon said.