We are currently 18 games into Chelsea’s first EPL season under Andre Villas-Boas and the Blues sit in 4th place with a sizable points gap between themselves and the Manchester duo in first place. Most anyone reading this article has watched every one of Chelsea’s games either on a couch or inside the stadium, and we’ve all had our own view on what has gone "wrong". If you listen to the media it’s solely Torres and Luiz’s fault, possibly mixed with some of AVB’s inexperience and the "old guard’s" overbearing influence. Luiz hate has also spread to high defensive line hate and even broadened into a lack of defensive capability as the reason for the Blues struggles. While the general defensive argument has some validity, Chelsea have conceded the 5th fewest goals this season, so it’s not exactly a glaring error. Since many people are "attack" minded, the blame turned back to offense and most of the analysts/fans/writers like to point to the fact that Chelsea is an aging squad that lacks the speed and creativity to make opportunities to score. Our pursuit of players like Pastore, Modric, and Mata suggest that this is indeed correct, which is not something I’m arguing. We’ve even stated on this site that Chelsea has lacked creativity and the final pass needed to create a goal. It’s easy to point out these faults early on in the season because there aren’t facts or stats to prove or disprove your point. Luckily, we are 18 games into the Premier League and we now have some data to examine. So, with the "Chelsea can’t create chances" bait dangling in front of me, I’ll bite.
In order to judge whether or not Chelsea struggle to create chances, we need to be able to compare them to others. I decided to take a look at the "top 4″ of the Premier League, since that is where Chelsea want to (and absolutely should) end up by at the end of the year. Luckily, Opta keeps track of "chances created" with their FourFourTwo app so I don’t have to watch every game of those teams to come up with the numbers. Before we go any further, I need to make sure we are on the same page with stats (so I don’t get blasted in the comments section). Stats NEVER tell the whole story and while I use them to help illustrate an idea, they are not the end-all. "Chances Created" from Opta are especially questionable since there are loose rules for what is defined as a chance and what isn’t. However, since I am using the same metric for each team (from Opta), this error can be greatly reduced and we can still draw conclusions from the data. *Back quasi-protected*. Now onto the chart:
What’s that? Chelsea isn’t abysmal at creating chances? Interesting. For those that despise reading charts because it reminds you of school too much: Man City-252 (14 cpg), Tottenham-244 (14.35 cpg), Chelsea-244 (13.55 cpg), Man U-243 (13.5 cpg). Chelsea is tied for 2nd in chances created (for now since Tottenham has a game in hand), and 3rd in chances created per game. While everyone would love to see the Blues in 1st in both of those categories, it is clear that statistically speaking, Chelsea are just as good at creating chances as the other top 4 clubs in the EPL. The acquisition of Mata cannot be understated (not that it is), since he leads Chelsea with 59 of our chances. That means that Mata has been responsible for 24.2% of all of Chelsea’s chances; perhaps that is one problem. Teams know that Mata is our main source of creativity and by concentrating on him can reduce the amount of chances Chelsea produces by 25%. There is no stat for it, but I’d be willing be place a sizable wager that Mata would have a ton of "2nd chances created" (think hockey assist) for the remaining 75% as well. The obvious point is that the Blues are too reliant on Mata to create and need another play-maker. That being said, there is more to Chelsea’s lack of offense than chances created.
As I showed with the chart, Chelsea are actually on par with the top teams in England at creating chances. What then stands in the way between chances and goals? One word: Finishing. Time after time I have held my hands in disbelief as Blue after Blue has come just short of putting the final touches on a great potential goal-scoring play. Ramires, Sturridge, and Torres have taken most of the heat for this, but the problem extends beyond them. Drogba has clanged some off the post, Mr. reliable Lampard missed a sitter from 1 yard out, and a few of our defenders have shanked relatively easy headers. I believe that right now Chelsea’s inability to finish chances is the biggest reason why Chelsea sit in 4th place and not a few spots higher in the table. To the chart!
*SOG comes from NBC Sportspage. Same logic from Opta stats apply.
Looking at the chart, we can see that Chelsea make relatively good use of their chances created and get a respectable number of shots on goal. The Blues are third in shots on goal and even though I didn’t show it, would be third in SOG/Total Shots with 40.6% (Man U-43.4%, Man City-39.3%, Tottenham-39.5%). Tottenham are likely to pass us in total SOG when they play their 18th game, but even still it is a tight race. However, when we look at the secondary Y-axis, Goals/SOG, suddenly the dominance of the Manchester teams materializes. Manchester United and Manchester City have been clinical this year; Chelsea has not.United has put away 35.16% of their SOG, City has put away an even better 41.09%, and Chelsea have finished a pretty pathetic 28.8% of our SOG. In my eyes, this is where the the majority of the 11 point difference between Chelsea and co-league leaders come from. Contrary to popular belief, Chelsea are not failing to create the chances, they are failing to put them away.
One could make an argument that perhaps another explanation is that Chelsea are taking too many outside shots (see Lampard and Meireles) and thus the lower Goals/SOG %. While I agree that is certainly a possibility and have been frustrated at times watching opposition goalkeepers easily collect shots from 35 yards out, I do not think that is a major issue. The fact that Chelsea create an equal amount of chances and have the 2nd highest SOG/Total Shots percentage imply that we are faltering closer to the goal, not in the long-range effort area. More long-range shots would lead to more shots off target and less possession to make chances, which is not the case. Our lack of clinical finishing is very evident from just the past two games. Torres had a beautiful effort against Fulham with his chest-trap and volley, but it didn’t go in. His effort and skill to bring the ball down was sensational, but ultimately he failed to beat the keeper. We all saw Ramires burst through against Tottenham only to be denied by his outreached arm as Ramires attempted to finish the 1 v 1. We saw Ramires steer an open header just wide (I still contest he deserves more credit for getting it that close) against Tottenham again. Just last game, Drogba fired straight into Stockdale’s chest instead of going far-post. These chances are ones that Chelsea players have been spoiling and United and City players have not.In the beginning of the season we were lamenting our bad luck, but when it continues for 18 games it is not just luck, it is a trend.
I believe in Chelsea and that the Blues will be in the Champions League no problem next year. I believe in AVB and the new system that he is instilling at our club this very instant. I know Chelsea has world-class players putting on the uniform and will fight like warriors to win for the fans. Now it’s up to the players to have that same confidence in themselves and put the ball in the back of the net when their teammate gives them the opportunity. I think that Chelsea could still use reinforcements that are creative play-makers this winter and/or summer, but I do not ultimately believe the "lack" of those players are keeping Chelsea out of the title race. The Blues are creating chances with the best of them, but they simply aren’t finishing them.