There are few players in the world whose stock continues to rise despite spending the majority of the season warming the bench, but that is the reality of Alvaro Morata.
The Spaniard was tasked by Zinedine Zidane to affect change from the bench last season. There is little shame in being behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema in the centre forward pecking order.
One of them is a top striker with experience at the highest level, a proven goal-scorer. The other is simply out of this world.
But time waits for no man. And Morata is simply no different.
The 24-year-old, who scored 15 goals from 14 starts last season, is at a crossroads. Either he continues as a support act for one of the greatest teams in the world, or he becomes a leading act somewhere else.
It seems that Morata is tired of waiting in the wings for Ronaldo to call in sick and is willing to ply his trade elsewhere.
The centre forward has been linked with a number of clubs, namely Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United. Speculation is mounting as to whether Chelsea have opted out of the race for the Morata’s signature, with Everton’s Romelu Lukaku close to a Stamford Bridge return.
This would result in a two-horse race for Morata’s signature.
The amount mooted for the Spanish striker is above what one would expect to pay for a second-choice striker. However, given that strikers are at a premium currently and goals remain the highest commodity in modern football, it is not unrealistic for Manchester United or Arsenal to part with over £80million for the player.
However, with the two Premier League sides playing very different styles of football and adopting different systems, who is in greater need of the striker?
Last season, Arsenal outscored United by 23 goals. Although this was a reasonable return by the Gunners, it is a clear sign of how poor Jose Mourinho’s side were in the final third. Despite the wretched record, United had a reliable and free-scoring striker in Zlatan Ibrahimovic, although he’s since left.
In 27 Premier League games, the Swedish striker found the net 17 times. That is 11 more than United’s second highest scorer, Juan Mata – who managed a paltry six goals. With Ibrahimovic getting his marching orders, it’s imperative the club replace the target man.
However, the individual styles of Morata and Ibrahimovic bear no resemblance. The Swede is a limber target-man with an ability to score from anywhere. He regularly shoots from distance and uses his huge frame to outmuscle defenders in the box.
Morata, however, is much more agile in his movement. At his best, he plays on the shoulder of the defender, running at pace and drawing fouls. According to WhoScored, he averages two shots less per game than Ibrahimovic and yet still scores at a higher rate.
Last season, Mourinho adopted a highly defensive outlook in major games. Both wingers were asked to tuck in to almost create a back six. This rarely changed. Even when Ibrahimovic was injured and Mourinho opted for Anthony Martial or Marcus Rashford in his stead, United were still too deep to exert any real pressure on their opposition.
If Mourinho is successful in his bid for Morata, The Red Devils may be tempted to continue with their deep defensive line and attempt to hone their skills on their counter-attacking movement.
A forward trio of Martial, Rashford and Morata could be potent. Last year, Martial failed to build on his first season success. However, the French striker has shown enough promise to warrant a wariness from opposition. Similarly, Rashford has shown enough in his first season-and-a-half to suggest he could be a threat in the right system. The introduction of Morata could unify the two younger forwards and allow for a very fluid forward line.
The only real doubts arise over whether Mourinho would allow his forwards to interlink and switch positions throughout a game. Even in his pomp at Chelsea, Mourinho rarely encouraged his wingers to trade places – so to give three players the freedom to do so would be a huge gamble for the risk-aversive manager.
As previously mentioned, however, Mourinho is not the only manager pursuing Morata. Arsene Wenger is also interested in the Spaniard. Although the price tag is more likely to dissuade Wenger than it would Mourinho, the acquisition of a mobile centre forward could have extraordinary effects on Arsenal.
Last season, the Gunners were at their best with Danny Welbeck leading the line. Although he scored a measly two goals, his movement and willingness to harry defenders allowed both Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez to shine.
If Arsenal were able to procure a striker as mobile and as hardworking as Welbeck with the ability to finish, Arsenal could quite reasonably add a further 20 goals to their campaign. Morata could be that man.
Despite his limited appearances, Morata still managed to record eight yellow cards last season. He clearly was aware that in order to gain game time, he would have to contribute offensively and defensively.
The thought of Alexis and Morata harrying defenders and countering at speed is salivating – more so when you think about the prospect of Granit Xhaka and Mesut Ozil providing the ammunition for them.
There are two ways of thinking about a potential transfer. How badly do you need a player and how suited are they to your system?
Given that United have lost their top goal scorer, they are in dire need of a leading striker. Yet how well he would fit in the Manchester United set up remains to be seen. Mourinho more often than not favours a strong centre-forward, as shown from Diego Costa and Didier Drogba at Chelsea and Ibrahimovic at United.
Wenger, on the other hand, seems to prefer a more agile striker. Although Giroud has been a mainstay in the team for the past three years, Wenger rarely uses him as a target man.
The pursuit of Kylian Mbappe, Alexandre Lacazette and Morata suggest Wenger is ready and willing to spend big on a quick, clinical striker which could spell the end of Giroud’s time at the club. If this is the case, Wenger cannot rely on Welbeck to lead a title charge, meaning the club badly need to invest.
It’s clear both clubs need a striker, yet United’s needs are far greater than Arsenal’s at this point, especially given they have less options to choose from than Arsenal do.