LONDON (Reuters) - Chelsea’s Alvaro Morata and Manchester United’s Romelu Lukaku were both going through a barren spell coming into Sunday’s match at Stamford Bridge but it was the Spaniard who won the battle of the strikers as he headed the hosts to a 1-0 win.
It had been six games in all competitions since either of the expensive close season signings had found the net. Morata’s injury problems had hampered his early momentum, while Lukaku was suffering from a lack of service.
In the first seven Premier League games this season Lukaku’s team created 22 chances for him (3.14 per game) and he got seven goals. In the last three league games during which he has failed to score, his team created five chances for him (1.6 per game).
Morata, who revealed in September that he snubbed a move to United in the close season, started the campaign in prolific form, with a classy hat-trick at Stoke City the highlight, before picking up an injury against Manchester City.
Lukaku, 24, was heavily linked with a move to Chelsea before he joined United for 75 million pounds ($98.00 million) from Everton, adding further intrigue to Sunday’s meeting.
With both players fully fit, the tussle promised to be fascinating but it was Morata who came out firmly on top.
“Tonight Morata had a good game and showed he is strong physically and has good technique,” said Chelsea manager Antonio Conte said. “If I have to find a negative, he has to score more and be more clinical.”
There were chances for the 25-year-old Spain international to make the victory more comfortable, but his composure deserted him at the crucial moment time and again.
However, the goal that decided the game certainly justified a large portion of the reported 70 million pounds club-record fee shelled out to Real Madrid to secure his services.
Morata was helped by an inch-perfect cross from Cesar Azpilicueta but the craft to guide his header past keeper David De Gea from 15 metres deserves the utmost acclaim.
Morata had three shots on goal in the game and, up against three strong defenders, that represents a commendable return.
Lukaku’s afternoon was distinctly less fruitful. The Belgium international had one effort at goal from outside the box, but the tentative strike showed a lack of real conviction.
Lukaku did not manage a single touch of the ball in the Chelsea penalty area throughout the match.
”I don’t want to talk about stats,” said United manager Mourinho. “I‘m happy with his effort, attitude and desire.”
But if United are to overcome the eight-point gap that Manchester City hold over their great rivals, Lukaku must start producing the goods against the top sides.
In 38 appearances against top six teams since Lukaku joined Everton in 2014, he has netted five goals from 83 shots.
This season, Morata has a higher goals-per-game average, better shooting accuracy and higher shot conversion rate plus more touches in the opposition penalty area per 90 minutes.
The stats may not interest Mourinho but in the battle of the strikers at Stamford Bridge they proved there was only one winner.
Editing by Ken Ferris