Chelsea cruise to much-needed win at Huddersfield without Alvaro Morata
HUDDERSFIELD, England -- Here are three points from Chelsea's routine 3-1 win at Huddersfield.
1. Chelsea cruise to win without Morata
Chelsea showed they can win without a striker by cruising to a 3-1 victory against Huddersfield Town in the absence of out-of-form centre-forward Alvaro Morata.
Morata, who missed the trip to the John Smith's Stadium due to a back problem, had scored just one goal in his past six games, including a blank during the 1-0 defeat at West Ham at the weekend. But with Morata sidelined and Belgium striker Michy Batshuayi once again overlooked for a starting spot by manager Antonio Conte, Chelsea tore Huddersfield apart with a 3-4-3 formation that saw Eden Hazard operate as a false nine, with Willian and Pedro deployed down the flanks.
The three-pronged front-line proved too slick for Huddersfield, with Willian scoring one and making the other goals, for Tiemoue Bakayoko and Pedro, in a one-sided game against David Wagner's team, who reduced the deficit only with a stoppage-time Laurent Depoitre header.
Having lost against West Ham on Saturday prior to Manchester City's 2-1 win at Manchester United on Sunday, Chelsea travelled to Huddersfield already 14 points adrift of the Premier League. With their hopes of retaining the title all but over, any failure to win in Yorkshire would have left Chelsea looking over their shoulder in the race for a top four spot.
Even though Huddersfield beat United at home and gave City a scare before losing last month, Chelsea were never in danger of dropping points, and they moved level on points with United in second with this win.
2. Bakayoko finding his feet for Chelsea
Tiemoue Bakayoko has found life tough at Chelsea this season, but his goal-scoring performance at the John Smith's Stadium should help diminish the negativity surrounding the summer signing from Monaco.
The France midfielder has been criticised by supporters and former players for his lackadaisical performance and poor decision-making, but few have pointed out that he arrived at Chelsea with a knee injury and is probably still paying the price for returning to action when clearly lacking match sharpness back in August. He has been playing catch-up ever since, and Nemanja Matic's impressive form at Manchester United has not helped, with the Serbia international's exit from Chelsea largely due to Bakayoko's arrival.
Against Huddersfield, playing alongside N'Golo Kante in a 3-4-3 formation, Bakayoko played well and scored the opening goal on 23 minutes after being teed up by Willian.
Clearly, the standard of opposition might have helped Bakayoko impress in this game, with Wagner's team lacking the quality of most top-flight sides. But it is all about making progress, and this performance was definitely progress for Bakayoko, who completed 90 minutes for Chelsea for the first time in seven games.
The 23-year-old can now use this game as a platform on which to build a good run of form and start to justify the £40 million fee Chelsea paid for him following his star turn in Monaco's run to the Champions League semifinals last season.
3. Huddersfield must match their chairman's quick thinking
Late in the first half, as the rain poured down, Huddersfield chairman Dean Hoyle spotted a torrent of water falling down from the leaking roof of the main stand. An over-flowing gutter had led to a small group of fans being soaked, and without hesitation, Hoyle beckoned over a steward, told him precisely which part of the roof was damaged and made it clear that it needed to be fixed.
In terms of dealing with a problem, it was a classic example of identifying it and then putting a plan in action. Sadly, the Huddersfield players out on the pitch did not possess that same ability to think on their feet.
Wagner's team have done well in the Premier League following promotion last season, with a 2-1 home win over Manchester United their obvious high point. But against Chelsea, Huddersfield looked to be out of ideas, with no clue how to solve the problems posed by the reigning champions. They couldn't handle Chelsea's front three of Willian, Hazard and Pedro and were unable to get a foothold in midfield against Kante and Bakayoko. They were also exposed time and again down the flanks.
Huddersfield were probably due or an off-night after their heroics against United and their narrow defeat against Man City, but Wagner and Hoyle should be worried about this performance and hope that it is a blip rather than a sign of things to come.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_