On Sunday afternoon, Chelsea confirmed the signing of Michy Batshuayi. The Blues had emerged as surprise frontrunners in the race to secure his services last week to blow their competitors out of the water. He becomes the club’s third Belgian and Chelsea’s first signing of the summer as they look to bolster their attack ahead of the coming season.
Chelsea’s disappointing campaign leaves them out of Europe for a season, which perhaps adds to the pressure on Antonio Conte to succeed straight away. The Italian has more time to prepare for domestic opposition, with the club’s hierarchy demanding instant success following his appointment. Conte, though, is clearly one who thrives when shouldering such a burden. Italy performed above expectations at Euro 2016, despite injuries to key men Claudio Marchisio and Marco Verratti and a lack of consistent striking talent.
Furthermore, he won the Scudetto in his three seasons in charge of Juventus, having also won numerous honours as a player. He provides the shot in the arm required to get Chelsea back on track following a 10th-placed finish last term. While Diego Costa has confirmed his intention to remain at Stamford Bridge, his indifferent form last season suggested a new striker was necessary.
12 goals and six assists wasn’t a terrible return by any stretch of the imagination, but Costa’s form only really picked up in the New Year, and even then he ended the campaign with a whimper rather than a bang. That Chelsea averaged the sixth-most key passes per game (10.6) in England’s top tier suggests that Costa should have enjoyed a more profitable campaign, earning similar numbers to his debut season where he bagged 20 league goals.
Comparatively, Batshuayi returned 17 goals and nine assists – only Zlatan Ibrahimovic (51) and Angel Di Maria (28) were directly involved in more goals in Ligue 1 last term – for a disappointing Marseille side, which amplifies his impressive form for the French outfit. However, he may be forced into playing with a strike partner following his move to Chelsea. Last season at Marseille, Batshuayi was largely deployed as the lone frontman in a 4-2-3-1 formation, though sporadically played alongside Steven Fletcher to mixed effect, scoring two goals in the five Ligue 1 games they started together.
However, for a Chelsea side of superior quality, Batshuayi can be expected to impress on the frontline, particularly if Conte implements a 3-5-2 formation, as he did for Juventus and Italy. In that case, Batshuayi could be partnered in attack by Eden Hazard. Supporters caught a glimpse of the duo’s compatibility at Euro 2016 with Hazard setting up Batshuayi for his first tournament goal in Belgium’s 4-0 win over Hungary.
In a 3-5-2 formation, the logical position for Hazard is in a strike pair, with Batshuayi his partner in attack. The 22-year-old signing is a striker who won’t necessarily look to hold up the ball for others, but instead hang on the shoulder of the last defender to be played in on goal by teammates. Alongside Hazard, the pair have the makings to form an efficient working relationship.
Only David Silva (350) has played more key passes than Hazard (323) in the last four Premier League seasons. With the latter looking as though he is getting back to his best, if his Euro 2016 performances are anything to go by – no player has registered more assists at the competition than Hazard (4) – Batshuayi would certainly have ample goalscoring opportunities created for him.
Given his solitary statistically calculated WhoScored.com strength is ‘finishing’ – scoring all of his goals from inside the box last season – ensuring Chelsea play to Batshuayi’s strengths will help him adjust to the rigours of English football and benefit the team in their quest to re-assert their Premier League dominance. With the level of interest in his signature, Chelsea did well to win the race to sign Batshuayi and they will be hoping for an immediate return from the frontman following his arrival. If Conte does follow through with the 3-5-2 formation he favours, partnering the summer signing with compatriot Hazard would undoubtedly increase Batshuayi’s chances of hitting the ground running.