How does Michy Batshuayi figure in Antonio Conte’s Chelsea plans?

COBHAM, ENGLAND - JULY 03: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) Chelsea FC's new signing Michy Batshuayi at Chelsea Training Ground on July 3, 2016 in Cobham, England. (Photo by Chelsea FC via Getty Images)
COBHAM, ENGLAND - JULY 03: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) Chelsea FC's new signing Michy Batshuayi at Chelsea Training Ground on July 3, 2016 in Cobham, England. (Photo by Chelsea FC via Getty Images) /

New signing Michy Batshuayi faces a struggle to start for Chelsea this season. How will the striker figure in Antonio Conte’s plans and how can he impress?

Though there’s never a bad time to add a player with neat hair, Chelsea’s signing of Michy Batshuayi three days into July was a bit of a surprise. The young, dreaded Belgian is relatively new to the scene of top league football, having become a starter at Marseille just last season.

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Adding to the surprise from Chelsea’s perspective is that with Diego Costa, Bertrand Traore and Loic Remy, the striking depth chart seemed to be set. But with the snatching of Batshuayi, shipping off of Traore to Ajax, and Remy…well, who ever really knows what’s happening with Rémy…new manager Antonio Conte signalled a different intent.

Michy thrived in a two-striker partnership at Marseille, notching 17 goals and 9 assists in 32 league starts. One of the more amazing aspects to Michy’s terrific Marseille season is that his longest stretch without a goal or assist was four starts – which only happened once. All of this makes Conte’s infatuation with trying to turn Ruben Loftus-Cheek into a forward even more peculiar, as it relegated Batshuayi to substitute appearances.

The Ruben Loftus-Cheek experiment didn’t go well and with Traore gone, Batshuayi is the backup striker by default. Perhaps this was always part of the plan, but now that those obstacles are cleared, others stand in the way.

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The path to the pitch for Batshuayi is dependent on the flexibility Conte is able to build within the team. Nearly every formation the former Juventus man has had success with relies on two-strikers. The one that doesn’t is the one that makes the most sense for Chelsea right now, a 4-3-3. In this scenario Michy would be stuck behind Costa, waiting for substitute minutes or for Costa to flay someone on the pitch and pick-up a lengthy ban.

However, if Conte is given the tools to be flexible with his formations – i.e. a strong center-back, starting LB and versatile midfielder – Michy could start seeing the pitch regularly in a 4-2-4 or 4-4-2.

The investment in Batshuayi seems to be one based on getting him on the pitch and giving Chelsea something they’ve been lacking in attack: a center of the pitch target with the speed and cunning to split opposing center-backs.

Michy Batshuayi is a natural and solid fit with Diego Costa. To make up for a lack of pace, Costa often has to drift wide to win his races. Batshuayi would offer another path through the defense and with his passing, unselfishness, and composure in the box, Costa’s job could get a hell of a lot easier (which would also mean the picking of fewer nonsensical fights).

Of course, this is all a dream at the moment. John Terry and Gary Cahill are still the center of Chelsea’s defense which rules out any two-striker formation. Nemanja Matic is still struggling to regain his best form, so he’ll require the protection of N’Golo Kante as much as Cahill and Terry.

If all of this remains true September 1st, Chelsea will have to wait until 2017 to see what Michy Batshuayi has to offer.