A look into the mind of crisis-hit Chelsea striker Alvaro Morata

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The Blues striker is the club's record signing but he is at risk of being left out in the biggest game of the season so far, due to a bad run of form

Chelsea will go into the biggest game of their season with record signing Alvaro Morata out of form, out of the team and suffering a crisis of confidence.

Morata has started just one of the Blues' last six games in all competitions, with the January deadline day signing of Olivier Giroud and use of Eden Hazard as a false nine dramatically reducing the £58 million man’s importance.

The former Real Madrid forward has scored 12 goals since arriving from the Santiago Bernabeu last summer, but he has failed to net in his last 12 appearances, a drought spanning 594 minutes.

Though Morata is trying to play through an ongoing back injury , he again seems likely to start on the substitutes’ bench on Wednesday when Chelsea face Barcelona in the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.

Chelsea will need at least one goal at Camp Nou, after the first leg finished 1-1 at Stamford Bridge, and it is perhaps an indication of Morata’s decline in recent weeks that he isn’t guaranteed to start.

Blues manager Antonio Conte doesn't just judge his strikers by their goal record and has repeatedly emphasised for the past two seasons that he wants them to act as a ‘point of reference’, but Morata's lack of goals appears to be having an adverse effect on all aspects of his play.

The 25-year-old may be his own harshest critic and spoke of being "lost" after not scoring for 100 days at Juventus . At Chelsea, there is now a visible petulance and frustration in his body language, while his disciplinary record increasingly becomes a concern. 

His yellow card tally is into double figures and he has been sent off once and booked in four other games since his last goal in December. He is being booked roughly once every 49 minutes and the disciplinary issues could be viewed as a manifestation of something much deeper. 

Many of his bookings have come for dissent, while he was lucky to avoid a second yellow card against Crystal Palace on Saturday when he knocked a flag out of the assistant referee’s hand.

Dan Abrahams has worked with players at all 92 English clubs and is currently assisting Bournemouth and the England national rugby team. He still consults players in the Premier League so, while he couldn't comment on individual cases, he spoke of the problems faced by strikers, amid a goal drought. 

"I think the striker is the second most pressured position on the pitch after the goalkeeper," Abrahams told Goal . "I think that the two things that I am constantly working on with strikers are acceptance and patience.

"Strikers are passionate about scoring, as you’d expect them to be, but sometimes wanting to score gets in the way, so much so that the game becomes out of your control. It is out of your control in general but especially as a striker.

Alvaro Morata

"If I was a striker and I want to score, but the ball isn’t coming up to me and I am not getting chances to score, it can get quite stressful and the emotions come out. So, you have to be patient and the way to do that is to help a player have clear, concise and controllable objectives.

"I work with players on those things. Rather than focus on scoring, focus on things that are going to help you to score. The runs, the movement, great body language, keep talking to yourself positively and get shots away when you can.

"The other one of acceptance is a big one as well, which is if they miss a chance, often as a striker you have defenders trying to stop you. You only get a few chances and sometimes only one chance in a game. When you miss, it can be frustrating, again you really want to score, so they have to be very patient and accepting.

"If you miss, you just have to carry on, stay in the present moment and take each second and minute as it comes. If I miss, I can’t afford to have an emotional reaction, stay in the game, keep working, keep running, so I think acceptance and patience are really important.

"Self-talk and body language are very important. Not just to give myself the best chance to score. The reality is that a striker isn’t going to go into a game feeling always 10 out of 10 confident. That’s not the way the game works, that’s not the way we work as human beings.

Dan Abrahams - Sports Psychologist

"The main message is if we take those two objectives of body language and self-talk, I’d be affirming the idea that it is fine, you are feeling six out of 10 for confident. It is okay to not be 100%, but your job is to stick to your controllable objective.

"To use your self-talk and body language to give yourself the best possible chance to have a good game. In that way, you might feel six out of 10 but it gives yourself the best possible chance to play an eight out of 10 game."

One of Abrahams' biggest successes came after giving some sessions to ex-Chelsea striker Carlton Cole, who credited the psychology work as part of the reason he went on to make his England debut in 2009 after a successful spell at West Ham. 

Morata's aerial threat is his greatest asset, with seven of his 12 goals being headers, but former Chelsea man William Gallas thinks that Premier League defenders may be getting better at playing against him. 

"A player like Morata likes to feel his defender [when he has his back to goal]," Gallas, who explained how he would stop the Spain international, told Goal . "But, when he doesn’t feel his defender, he doesn’t know where his defender will go or will anticipate the ball. So, the players like him, I would anticipate everything.

Alvaro Morata

"I won’t be in contact with him all the time. Only in the box, because when you are in the box you have to be in contact with the opponent. That’s very important, but outside of the box, you don’t need to be very close. You just have to read the game and be in a good position."

This season, the worst case scenario for Morata is that Giroud will take his spot, after a string of positive performances since signing. 

The same Morata who started the season is still somewhere inside that blue number nine shirt and Conte has delivered a gentle message to coax him out of his bad spell.  

"You have to work for the team and not lose confidence," Conte said in January . "The coach trusts him, his team-mates trust him, the club trusts him, the fans trust him. I don't see a problem, but this is the first time Morata has faced this situation.

"Before, if you stay on the bench, you don't have this type of pressure. So, now he has to learn to face this type of situation, move forward and go on."

Alvaro Morata

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Morata remains the intelligent and determined individual who made the memorable first impression at Chelsea. Perhaps his best goal of the season was his lunging header away to Leicester City, where he emulated the celebration of the club's former record signing, Fernando Torres. 

During his own time at Chelsea, Torres endured a combination of physical and mental discomforts which turned a world-class striker into someone considered a flop. 

That's just another bit of pressure for Morata, but he is a different man and, with Conte keen to coach him into becoming one of the world's best, it would be foolish to write him off. 

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