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Transfer Rater: Benteke to Chelsea

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 By Phil Lythell

With Alvaro Morata out, will Chelsea turn to Michy Batshuayi to lead line?

The FC panel look ahead at Chelsea's fixture list and examine the impact Alvaro Morata's hamstring injury may have on the team.
The FC crew react to an atypical performance from Chelsea in their home defeat to Premier League leaders Manchester City.

With no official news yet regarding the severity of Alvaro Morata's hamstring injury, it is looking increasingly unlikely that he will be available for Chelsea during Saturday's London derby at Crystal Palace. With a Champions League clash against Roma looming next Wednesday, even if he was fit and available there is very little chance that Antonio Conte would risk his star striker.

The Chelsea manager therefore has a decision to make over who will constitute his attack at Selhurst Park and how it will be deployed. There is, of course, another pure striker in Chelsea's ranks in Michy Batshuayi, though Conte has always been reluctant to use him from the start in meaningful fixtures. Last season's FA Cup semifinal win over Tottenham was the only time the Belgian has featured in the starting lineup for Chelsea in a big game.

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In all likelihood, it will be his compatriot Eden Hazard who will be the focal point of Chelsea's attack. He is certainly in goalscoring form, having netted twice for his country in a 4-0 win against Cyprus on Tuesday; the first a lovely curling shot into the bottom corner and the other from the penalty spot. It will be interesting, however, to see exactly how he is used by Conte.

When played as the nominal central figure of a front three, Hazard has excelled. He was dazzling in Chelsea's 3-0 win at Leicester last season despite not getting on the scoresheet, and generally filled the striking breach brilliantly in Diego Costa's absence, albeit in a very different manner. One of his better performances in the previous 2015-16 campaign -- a campaign filled with lows both for him as an individual and for Chelsea as a team -- came in the 0-0 draw at Tottenham in which he led the line admirably. The role allows him to take up his favoured central position but also gives him the freedom to interchange places with his fellow two forwards making the trio harder to track.

Chelsea must decide between using Eden Hazard or Michy Batshuayi at the tip of the attack or changing formation altogether.

Such a role depends on the formation and it is not clear that Conte will choose to field a front three against Palace. Against both Atletico Madrid and Manchester City, a forward was withdrawn to stiffen up the midfield to contrasting degrees of success. The system saw Hazard start each game as a second striker behind Alvaro Morata but while he thrived in the Spanish capital, his potency was lost against City from the moment Morata limped off after just 35 minutes. That was largely due to Willian being introduced, a fantastic player but on this occasion a square peg in a round hole. That system only works if one player can lead the line as a genuine striker while the other buzzes around creating problems behind him.

If Conte retains the formation for a third successive game then the solution might be to actually play Batshuayi from the start. Playing Hazard at the tip of a two-man attack is a waste of his talent and neither Pedro nor Willian are suited to that position. That leaves only Batshuayi as somebody theoretically capable of leading the line. While Conte might deem that a risk, it might just work. Hazard and Batshuayi are international teammates and recently lined up together against Cyprus. They therefore have prior experience of linking up and perhaps if Hazard's job is dedicated to feeding Batshuayi chances then the young striker might just flourish.

But the more realistic scenario is that Conte will revert to his preferred 3-4-3 system. This is partly due to the fact that with N'Golo Kante injured and Danny Drinkwater yet to prove his match fitness, he only has Cesc Fabregas and Tiemoue Bakayoko available as senior central midfielders. Additionally, Palace's wretched form that sees them rooted to the foot of the table after the worst start in Premier League history is likely to see Conte go for the jugular by playing three forwards.

If Morata is also ruled out of the Roma clash, Conte will then have a much tougher decision to make over whether to select a third midfielder or employ a three-man attack. Again, the fitness of his midfielders may well force his hand but if he has sufficient numbers at his disposal, his team selection will make for interesting reading. The only certainty is that Hazard will be at the fulcrum of Chelsea's ambitions.

Phil is one of ESPN's Chelsea bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter @PhilLythell.

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