Alvaro Morata: I've been playing through the pain for Chelsea
Chelsea striker Alvaro Morata says he is delighted to be seen as so important at the club that they pick him even when he is not 100 percent fit, unlike at former side Real Madrid.
Following his €65 million summer arrival from Madrid, Morata, 25, scored six goals in his first six Premier League games, and although fitness issues have hampered his contribution since, he has continued to feature and scored the winner in last weekend's 1-0 victory over Manchester United.
Last season at Madrid was quite different for the Spain international, where he was generally only used by coach Zinedine Zidane when one of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale was injured or being rested for a lower profile game.
"I needed something Real Madrid could not give, which was playing every Sunday, whether I was doing well or not," Morata told Marca. "At the moment I've had three games far from my physical best, but I've kept playing. That is what I needed. Any player wants to be at Real Madrid. [But] I needed to play. Nothing more. I fought all my life to be at Real Madrid, to try to be in the starting XI. But at Chelsea I have found what I needed."
Back in Spain for international duty, Morata also spoke on "El Partidazo" radio show, where he explained recent comments which had appeared to suggest he regretted rejoining Madrid from Juventus in 2016.
"I never said that I was sorry about returning to Madrid, just that they had treated me the same [as when I was previously there]," he said. "I will always be grateful to Madrid. I never said a bad word about anybody there. Everyone there, even the president, treated me really well always. Having left for that transfer fee it is difficult to return again. But nothing is impossible, especially with the money clubs are paying these days."
Morata played down the idea that Madrid teammates felt any negativity toward Ronaldo when he gets frustrated at not scoring, even when the team had won.
"Maybe if you are outside, and not a player, you think it is not good," he said. "But his personality is why he is one of the best players in the world and has made history. If you are used to scoring three or four, and leave without one, it is normal to be angry. He is happy when the team wins, but he is a predator -- [scoring] is what makes him happy. It also happens to me, although not as much."
Last weekend's game at Stamford Bridge saw Morata reunite with United boss Jose Mourinho, who he had worked under at Madrid.
"We gave each other a hug, we get on well," he said. "He is the coach who gave me my debut [at Madrid] and I will always have a special feeling for him. Now we are on opposing sides."
Morata also said that his relationship with Chelsea boss Antonio Conte was the reason he had played through the pain recently.
"I really appreciate that he had confidence in me, even when he was not my coach," he said. "There were moments when I was not going through a good time, and thought, 'If Conte wants me, then...' It motivated me. Now I must battle for him, even if I am in pain."
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan