By Rik Sharma
BARCELONA (Reuters) – There was no happy ending for Alvaro Morata at the end of the toughest season of his career, as Spain coach Julen Lopetegui left him out of his World Cup squad on Monday.
Chelsea’s 60 million-pound striker slipped down the pecking order at Stamford Bridge after a dramatic form slump and niggling back problem in a chastening first season in London.
After joining from Real Madrid last year the Spaniard started well, notching seven goals in his first seven matches in all competitions for the Blues.
But as Premier League defences began to target him, Morata struggled with constant physical battles, sometimes angering his own supporters for going down too easily.
In a torrid period after Christmas, Morata, 25, failed to score in 13 games, picking up a red card and four yellows in the same spell.
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte turned to January signing Olivier Giroud as Chelsea stumbled to fifth place in the Premier League and Morata appeared from the bench in the 89th minute as Chelsea beat Manchester United 1-0 to win the FA Cup on Saturday.
Lopetegui left the forward out of his Spain squad in March for friendlies against Germany and Argentina, citing his “physical problems and inactivity” as the reason.
The coach, however, said there remained a good chance Morata would make it to Russia, with the other centre-forward options relatively inexperienced, but in the end they were preferred.
Diego Costa has seven goals in 18 appearances for Spain, while Iago Aspas and Rodrigo Moreno, the other two strikers picked, have played eight and four times for their country respectively.
Atletico Madrid forward Costa spent the first half of the season on strike in Brazil, refusing to play for Chelsea, before returning to help his Spanish side lift the Europa League last week.
Morata, with 13 goals from 23 appearances for Spain, left Madrid looking for a key role at Chelsea to help him cement his position as Spain’s World Cup striker, after being forced to rotate with Karim Benzema at the Santiago Bernabeu.
As his season crumbled, the chances of making it to Russia became increasingly slim and the coach duly sounded the death knell.
“We believed we had other players in his position who could help us,” Lopetegui said on Monday. “It’s not something negative towards him. The truth is that he had a complicated end to the season.”
Morata wished his compatriots the best of luck in a tweet shortly after Lopetegui announced his omission, but less than a year ago he would have expected to be leading the 2010 world champions’ attack in Russia himself.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)