Rated: the 5 best contenders to fill Chelsea’s striker vacancy
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Borussia Dortmund)
Aubameyang enjoyed his best ever season in 2016/17, scoring 40 goals in 46 appearances for Dortmund. Following such a fruitful campaign, it's believed that the Gabon international will finally depart Germany this summer in search of a new challenge. He was close to signing for PSG last month but the French club eventually decided to pull the plug, meaning that the player is still up for grabs.
Chelsea, however, will need to act fast if they want lure Aubameyang to Stamford Bridge: Dortmund’s CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke says BVB are only willing to listen to offers for their most valuable player for “a few more days”, before they take him off the market.
At 28, Aubameyang is at the peak of his powers. He's an experienced and proven goalscorer who has tormented defences in Germany and across the continent in the past few years. With his startling pace, perfect movement inside the box and lethal finishing, the former Saint-Etienne man could be an ideal fit for Antonio Conte’s fast-paced and dynamic team.
The possibility of seeing the reigning champions execute a counter-attack (which served them well on many occasions last season) with Aubameyang up front is a frightening prospect. He's also versatile and can be used on both flanks if needed, while his work-rate and willingness to help out his team-mates in defence is another asset which Conte would surely appreciate.
Ironically, Aubameyang’s biggest strength could also be his biggest weakness. He's a player who relies on his speed and, at his age, you have to wonder when he will start to decelerate. The 28-year-old doesn’t create a lot of opportunities for his team-mates and his passing abilities can let him down. He has been accused of being selfish in the past and it's something he will need to correct in order to integrate properly into Chelsea’s team. The physical nature of the Premier League could also be a problem for Aubameyang, as he doesn’t have the necessary strength to outmuscle opponents.
Alvaro Morata (Real Madrid)
Morata was one of Manchester United's main targets this summer, but the negotiations with Real Madrid dragged on and the two sides couldn’t find an agreement. United quickly turned their attention elsewhere and snatched Romelu Lukaku from under Chelsea's nose. Now the Blues are reportedly looking to return the favour, and hoping to be more successful in their attempts to persuade Madrid to send Morata their way instead.
Conte is a long-term admirer of the Spanish forward, having once urged Juventus to sign him. Unfortunately the pair didn’t have a chance to work together: Conte shockingly resigned from his position in the summer of 2014, before Morata’s arrival in Turin. Three years later they might finally have another opportunity, this time in England.
The 24-year-old has a number of qualities which would suit Chelsea and their system. Morata is a tactically intelligent and unselfish player who possesses splendid athleticism and mobility in the final third. He knows how to shield the ball and is also direct with his runs, proactive with his passing and combines perfectly with other team-mates up front.
Despite not being considered a regular at the Bernabeu, Morata is coming off a career-best season with 20 goals in all competitions, having netted on average every 89 minutes. His 27.2% conversion rate was superior to Lukaku's 22.72%, and even surpassed Premier League top-scorer Harry Kane's 23.36%. Morata also has a reputation of showing up in big games, which he earned during his time at Juventus with goals in the latter stages of the Champions League.
Despite playing for European giants Real Madrid and Juventus, as well as representing his country 20 times, there are still doubts if Morata is ready to be a first-choice striker at a big club. He hasn’t been able to cement his place in the starting line-up in either of his spells in Italy or Spain, and there are many who question his ability to step up consistently. Morata certainly deserves a chance to prove that he can be a great No.9 who can lead a team, but will Chelsea be the club to take that risk? They'll face a fight from Milan first.
Andrea Belotti (Torino)
Belotti is one of the most sought-after players in this transfer window, regardless of his €100m release clause (and Torino are adamant they won’t sell him for anything less). He notched up 26 league goals and seven assists for his club last season, and is already regarded as Italy’s best striker following his stellar campaign in Serie A. Chelsea icon Gianfranco Zola has already urged his former club to sign the Italian this summer, believing that Belotti would perfectly suit Conte’s side and that he would have no trouble adjusting to the Premier League.
Of all reported targets, Belotti is the most similar to Diego Costa. He's a dominating presence in the box, strong and capable of holding up the ball long enough to allow his team-mates to join the attack. Although he’s not fleet-footed, he boasts excellent timing at running behind defences.
Belotti had an incredible season and his rise to prominence points towards a player with a bright future ahead of him. However, he's inexperienced and hasn’t played in any major competition outside of Italy. He's not particularly skilful with the ball and needs to put more work into the defensive side of his game. Spending a giant fee on a young player who had an amazing year (or year-and-a-half) and expecting him to perform on all fronts next season for Chelsea is a big ask, but Belotti has broad shoulders and might just be able to carry those expectations.