Spotlight on ‘mentally fragile’ Morata in Madrid derby
Atletico Madrid striker Alvaro Morata will be the focal point of Saturday’s Spanish capital derby as he make his home debut against neighbours Real Madrid, where he began an eventful career which has never truly taken off.
Morata has made only 85 top-flight starts in eight years since his professional debut, scoring 56 league goals in a stop-start journey which has taken him from Real to Juventus, back to Real and then to Chelsea, joining Atletico on loan last month.
Morata has been tasked with sharing the goalscoring burden with Antoine Griezmann to strengthen Atletico’s title battle with La Liga leaders Barcelona, but he got off to a miserable start with last week’s 1-0 defeat at Real Betis.
Spain international Morata struggled to combine with Griezmann and offered little threat as his side slumped to a first league defeat in five months, falling six points behind Barca who visit Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.
Atletico have also ceded ground to Real, who have won their last four league fixtures and will leapfrog their neighbours should they come out winners in the derby.
The game is not just a chance for Morata to prove a point to his former employers, who sold him to Juventus in 2014 for 18 million euros then brought him back to Spain for 36 million, only to offload him to Chelsea for 80 million a year later.
He also needs to win over Atletico fans who seem reluctant to embrace him due to his years with Real, with some chanting their disapproval about his signing in their last home fixture.
Morata also has work to do to convince the world of his talents after a difficult final months at Chelsea, where coach Maurizio Sarri claimed he was “mentally fragile” and assistant Gianfranco Zola said he had to remind the striker that he was representing Chelsea, not Brighton or Southampton.
Questions about Morata’s mentality also cropped up at Juventus, with Gianluigi Buffon saying he once told the striker “if he stopped feeling sorry for himself he could be a match winner”.
It will be fascinating to see how Atletico coach Diego Simeone, regarded as a macho, uncompromising figure, attempts to restore Morata’s confidence.
Whether or not the Argentine can get the striker firing again will determine whether Atletico can overhaul Barca and a resurgent Real in the title race.
Morata’s progress could also define their path in the Champions League, with Juventus awaiting them in the last 16, and with the final taking place at their Wanda Metropolitano stadium.
REUTERS/Reporting by Richard Martin, editing by Ed Osmond