The confusing Chelsea career of Álvaro Morata continued after he scored twice and missed an open goal from four yards out in his side’s third-round win.
At times Morata looked so bereft of confidence that it was almost impossible not to feel sorry for him. But, helped out by two fine assists from youngster Callum Hudson‑Odoi, he displayed that somewhere under that self-doubt a fine instinctive finisher still lurks.
Hudson-Odoi’s excellence will not go unnoticed, either. The winger was the subject of a third bid from Bayern Munich this week, this one worth north of £30m, and he showed exactly why they are so keen. It will be fascinating to see whether this performance persuades Maurizio Sarri to pick him more frequently, and whether that will persuade him to stay.
Morata’s odd day began after 15 minutes. Gianfranco Zola said before the game that the pressure of being Chelsea’s centre-forward should inspire rather than inhibit him, but the latter seemed closer to the truth after he headed straight at the Forest goalkeeper, Luke Steele, from inside the six-yard box.
The visiting fans launched into a song that compared him, in what we will delicately call unfavourable terms with their own forward Daryl Murphy.
“For a striker, it’s difficult when you go through a spell where you don’t score,” said Sarri’s assistant, Carlo Cudicini.
“Sometimes everyone can be different. Some players are more affected by the critics, but what’s important is that he wants to improve.”
Chelsea were absurdly dominant in the first half and should have taken the lead on the half-hour. Danny Fox blundered into a clumsy challenge on Ruben Loftus-Cheek, and Cesc Fàbregas, captaining the side on what is likely to be his last game for Chelsea, stepped up to take the narratively satisfying penalty. But, after a stutter, his weak effort was saved by Steele.
Loftus-Cheek was forced off just before half time with the back problem that has troubled him intermittently this season and he may now have to spend time on the sidelines. He was almost in tears as he went down the tunnel, and understandably so: this was a rare chance in the starting XI and Hudson-Odoi might muse upon that lack of opportunities when deciding his own future.
For now, he is at Chelsea and he created their opener just after the break. He fizzed a low cross for Morata to slam an instinctive finish past Steele, showing again that when he does not have time to think about things, he can still be effective.
A few minutes later, he missed that open goal, somehow scooping a left-foot effort over the bar from four yards out, but redeemed himself shortly after that, guiding a header inside the far post from another Hudson-Odoi cross.
His stoney reaction perhaps reflected his general mood, as did his face 15 minutes later when he was substituted for César Azpilicueta. It was quite a day.
Forest had the odd moment but the gulf in class was obvious. That said, given they were without several key players you can file their performance under creditable” Their manager, Aitor Karanka, said: “This is the kind of game I can’t complain about.”
Five minutes from the end Fàbregas received his send-off. He waved to all sides of Stamford Bridge and after the final whistle left the pitch in tears, on his way to Monaco after four-and-a-half seasons and two Premier League title wins at Chelsea.
“What can I say about Cesc?” said Cudicini. “He’s a one-of-a-kind player.”