Morata takes top billing

Chelsea striker Alvaro Morata (No. 9) retains possession as Eric Bailly of Manchester United attempts to match him for pace during the Blues' 1-0 victory at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. The Spaniard scored the only goal of the match, his first goal sin
Chelsea striker Alvaro Morata (No. 9) retains possession as Eric Bailly of Manchester United attempts to match him for pace during the Blues' 1-0 victory at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. The Spaniard scored the only goal of the match, his first goal since September.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Spaniard emerges from slump to fire Blues to victory over United

MANCHESTER • 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, United had created 22 chances for their Belgium hitman and he got seven goals. In the last three league games during which he has failed to score, that figure dropped to five chances.

Morata, who revealed in September that he had 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 incurring an injury against Manchester City.

Lukaku, 24, was heavily linked with a move to Chelsea before he joined United for £75 million (S$134 million) from Everton, adding further intrigue before the 25-year-old Spain international stole the headlines.

"Tonight Morata had a good game and showed he is strong physically and has good technique," Chelsea manager Antonio Conte said. "If I have to find a negative, he has to score more and be more clinical."

However, the goal that decided the game certainly justified a large portion of the reported £70 million club-record fee shelled out to Real Madrid to secure his services.

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    Goals Romelu Lukaku has scored in 38 appearances against the Premier League's big six teams (Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham, Liverpool and Arsenal)

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. He had one effort - which lacked conviction - at goal from outside the box and did not manage a single touch of the ball in the Chelsea penalty area.

"I don't want to talk about statistics," said United manager Mourinho. "I'm happy with his effort, attitude and desire."

It was the Portuguese manager's third straight loss at Stamford Bridge since he joined United and he was in a combative mood.

"We are second - not fifth, sixth or seventh or eighth," he told Sky Sports. "We have several teams in a more difficult position than we have. Eight points is eight points.

"We went through a very difficult phase with important matches against Tottenham, Liverpool and Chelsea without important players.

"We had chances. If I remember Lukaku shot in the first half and in the last part of the game with the (Marcus) Rashford shot...We had lots of chances to score goals."

But if United are to overcome the eight-point gap that City hold, 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.

Chelsea midfielder Cesc Fabregas said the hosts might have won by an even bigger margin and was proud of the team's resilience. He said: "We played like a big team, defended like a big team and we have to be proud."

Despite the growing gap at the top, United defender Chris Smalling refused to concede the title. He said: "The result is frustrating because we put in so much effort and I think we controlled large parts of the game.

"It's unfortunate there's now an international break but I think we'll have to regroup and in our next game make sure we put on a performance to rectify this.

"I think it's about us getting back to Old Trafford for that game and putting on a performance that the fans can be proud of."

United host 11th-placed Newcastle United when the league resumes on Nov 18.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 07, 2017, with the headline 'Morata takes top billing'. Print Edition | Subscribe