Alvaro Morata's impact at Chelsea this season surprises Gianfranco Zola
Chelsea legend Gianfranco Zola has told ESPN FC that he has been surprised by the consistency and physical qualities that Alvaro Morata has shown for the Blues this season, adding that he considers the 25-year-old to be one of the world's most skilful strikers.
Morata has made an impressive start to life at Stamford Bridge since joining from Real Madrid for a club-record initial fee of £58 million last summer, contributing seven goals and three assists in 10 Premier League appearances.
A hamstring injury picked up at the end of September briefly disrupted Morata's momentum but he ended a seven-match goal drought with the winner in Chelsea's 1-0 victory over Manchester United at Stamford Bridge last weekend, and Zola revealed he has been impressed with the Spain international's immediate impact.
Speaking at the launch of his new restaurant near Stamford Bridge, Unico, Zola said: "I knew already from Italy that he had very good qualities, but what is surprising me is his consistency so far.
"I've always said he's a very talented player, one of the most skilful with his feet in his position in the world, but what he's proving in this league is being strong, being determined. Honestly I didn't know he had that and it's good for him, it's good for Chelsea and hopefully he can continue as he has."
Zola is also an admirer of Chelsea midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko.
"He is a player who has impressed me very much since the first day I saw him," Zola added. "He's grown so much in stature and he's probably impressed me the most [among the new signings at Chelsea]."
Morata's form has been one of the biggest positives in a troubled start to the season for Chelsea. Injuries and inconsistent performances have left Antonio Conte's men nine points adrift of Premier League leaders Manchester City and second to Roma in their Champions League group.
Chelsea legend Roberto Di Matteo believes the added burden of European commitments has complicated things for Conte this season, but insisted that the club still have the quality to achieve their targets as long as they avoid any further injuries to key players.
"There's certainly the added pressure of the European competitions," he told ESPN FC. "Last season they had a whole week to prepare each game in the Premier League, which certainly helped. Also you don't spend as much energy as you do this season.
"But also the competitors [for the title] in the Premier League have improved. They have signed some very good players. It's still early days to say who's going to win it but certainly there seems like one team that is [surging] ahead and the others have to play a bit of catch-up.
"When you're involved in all the competitions you obviously need a bit of depth. There have been some discussions about that over the summer [at Chelsea]. So far it looks pretty OK to me -- I'm not sure if the manager feels he has enough depth, but the quality is there. If [Chelsea] don't have too many injuries and suspensions, I think the team will be strong enough."
Zola added: "There's still a long way [to go]. In a league like the English one I think December is a crucial month where there are a lot of games.
"This year the teams involved in the Champions League having to deal with two competitions, now they are OK, but further along in the season I think they will have a few problems. I think injuries and the form of key players will play a big part. There's still a long way to go and no one has to feel out of [contention]."
Chelsea's on-pitch setbacks, coupled with reports of tension between Conte and the club's hierarchy that intensified with the surprise resignation of technical director Michael Emenalo this week, have fuelled speculation that the head coach could depart Stamford Bridge at the end of the season or sooner if results dip.
Zola remains beloved at Chelsea thanks to the seven illustrious years he spent at the club as a player, and has never hidden his dream to manage the Blues.
"It's a question with an obvious answer!" he added when asked if he would take the job. "Chelsea for me has always been a big part [of my life], but I think Antonio is doing a great job and as long as someone does a good job for the club we're very happy with that. We'll see what happens."
Di Matteo, however, did not seem as open to a second spell in the job he was sacked from in November 2013 after winning the Champions League and FA Cup, saying with a smile: "I've done my part!"
Liam is ESPN FC's Chelsea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Liam_Twomey.