Chelsea are truly a team full of surprises. Their latest was being down 2-0 versus the 18th-place club in the Premier League table Southampton at St. Mary’s Stadium this weekend.
Things looked grim until Olivier Giroud, he who is the perfect specimen of a super-sub, turned things around. That of course accompanied by a smart tactical shift from Antonio Conte.
Onto the numbers!
(NB: Southampton stats on the left — or orange in graphics — and Chelsea on the right — or blue on graphics, unless stated otherwise. We didn’t choose these colours.)
Chelsea have had issues with their shooting all season. But they might have reached their bottom form this weekend, with none of the 7 attempts hitting the target.
Southampton meanwhile were quite successful in those. No wonder they recorded double the amount of expected goals from their attempts with 0.68 to Chelsea’s meagre 0.33.
As explored by our tactical review, Southampton started out by sitting back and allowing Chelsea to take action. It shows in the possession numbers, Chelsea attempting and completing more passes than Southampton during the half.
And so, the Saints recorded more defensive actions. Their sheer number of clearances with 14 show Chelsea did get to the attacking third with some ease. However, as it has often been the case this season, their shooting faltered while Southampton’s did not.
1-0 to the hosts at half-time, and with an edge to further their advantage.
Chelsea continued to dominate possession in the second half, although the Saints were still searching for their second. They found success only 15 minutes after the start of the half, with a header from debutant Jan Bednarek.
It was then that Conte made his tactical shifts, with Pedro and Olivier Giroud taking the pitch in place of Davide Zappacosta and Álvaro Morata accompanied by a 4-4-1-1/4-4-2 shape. It undoubtedly wielded success with 3 goals coming in quick succession for the Blues, who were already dominating offensive actions before the changes took place.
Apart from expected goals, corners, clearances and total blocks, Chelsea were supreme next to Southampton. Most of our offensive actions took place in the span of 17 minutes, from Pedro and Giroud’s entrance to our third goal — that being the second from the French striker.
After that Chelsea reverted to the three-man defence, and had to cushion loads of pressure from the Saints who were creating good chances. Luckily Courtois kept us clean in this period, being a major factor in the Blues being able to complete a turnaround that had not happened since 2002.
As mentioned above, our shooting woes persist. Southampton hit the target in 7 of 10 attempts, with only 1 of those blocked. While Chelsea were good in 5 of 17, of which 8 were blocked.
We also continue to try loads of shots from outside the box, even though those are not too effective in conversion. It is clearly a tactical option, but it could also be something out of frustration from our mechanical ways of moving forward being unable to find spaces for us to try shots in the area. In fact, we were only able to regularly find those opportunities upon the changes at the one-hour mark in the match.
The map above shows the distribution of passes that lead to shots from either side, with the dots on the corners of the image being... corners.
And Chelsea were much better than Southampton in the number of passes leading to shots. Those however were from shorter distances than Southampton who managed two passes from our half, as well as three into their half but outside the box turning into shots at our goal.
Southampton managed to convert the biggest chances they found in the game, first by a superb play from 2012 Champions League winner Ryan Bertrand slicing open our defence and assisting Dusan Tadic’s; and then on Bednarek’s attempt from a set piece. Meanwhile Chelsea did get loads of shots but none as big as Southampton’s. And despite it being a situation they were not supposed to be in, the Blues were still able to get that amazing comeback.
It was the Ryan Bertrand show on Southampton’s side, and for a good reason as the left wing-back was difficult to contain. 59% of their attacks ended up concentrated on his left flank.
Chelsea were a tad more balanced, utilising their wings at the same degree with 32% of offensive actions across both of them. 36% of those were through the middle.
Chelsea were clearly ahead of Southampton when it came to dribbling. Over 90 minutes of play we completed 20 of 24dribbles, to the Saints’ 9 in 11.
Expectedly most of Southampton’s attempt were in the left side of the pitch, while Chelsea scattered their dribbling endeavours. And we fared much better in dribbles at the opposition’s half.
Unstable touches were a bit of torn on our side. From the 11 turnovers recorded by Chelsea in the match-up, 7 were made in Southampton’s half and ended up killing our attacks.
We already offered praise to Bertrand on Southampton’s side, and deservedly so as he was their main creator at St. Mary’s Stadium last Saturday. So it is only fair to highlight his teammate Tadic, who was another centrepiece in the Saints’ offensive actions with his shots, one of which turned into his team’s first goal, and dribbling with an 100% success rate in 4 attempts.
Aside from the expected goals and assists numbers, Chelsea were no slouches. Eden was just amazing with the sheer number of dribbles attempted and completed in the weekend, being also one of our best shooters with 2 shots on target and a goal.
Credit also to Giroud, who converted his 2 attempts at goalkeeper Alex McCarthy’s goal; and Willian, with 6 key passes recorded in the match.
Even in the current days of unending struggles from Chelsea to close out games, goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was still kept mostly unperturbed by our opposition. That is not what took place last Saturday as the Belgian was constantly checked by our opponents, especially at the end of the game.
Courtois’ distribution, however, remains a problem. Not that his counterpart in McCarthy fared much better, but hitting 2 of 8 long passes when we have had systematic problems with pressing upon our backline is worrisome to say the least.
Aside from long passes attempted, Chelsea were almighty in the passing game overall. It is however quite telling that Southampton in 17% of their tries, compared to Chelsea’s 8%. A big gap between a relegation side and a top four hopeful.
The hosts did not waste much time (or passes) with possession in the backline, making only 50 passes directed to the defensive third. Less than half of Chelsea, with 118.
Both sides were almost tied in passes made to the middle of the pitch, with 230 from Southampton and 231 from Chelsea. And in the attacking third the Blues brushed the Saints’ aside, making 233 passes to their opponents’ 145.
Actions in the game were concentrated in the middle third, where 41% of those took place. Second was Southampton’s defence with 31%, with Chelsea suffering with and without the ball 27% of the time.
Former Blues Bertrand recorded the most touches on Southampton’s side, being also the player who assisted the Saints’ first goal. But in statistical terms former Bayern Munich midfielder Pierre-Emile Højbjerg was more meaningful with his passing, finding the target in 42 of 51 attempts (82.4% success rate) and recording xG Chain and xG Buildup numbers of 0.53 and 0.4, respectively.
Right behind the Danish midfielder was Dutch defender Wesley Hoedt. He was not as prolific in passing, but he tied Højbjerg in xG Chain and was above his team in xG Buildup with 0.53.
Youngster Andreas Christensen continues to be Chelsea’s most accurate passer, with his 90.2% success in 41 passes made. However, it was Gary Cahill who was more influential with his passing from the backline with 0.21 xG Chain and 0.2 xG Buildup.
Overall, Cesc Fàbregas still “hogs” the passing statistics with 72 passes completed in 88 attempts, edging Cahill’s xG Buildup record by 0.01. His long passing skills were also lush but only in volume, the Spaniard hitting the target 4 out of 10 times. Same number recorded by fellow countryman César Azpilicueta.
The xG Chain crown was kept by Eden Hazard, at 0.44.
Containing Bertrand and Tadic on their forays demanded constant action from our defenders, recording many blocks from crosses down Southampton’s left wing. A favour returned by the Saints with their blocked shots.
Dispossessions made by Chelsea were also concentrated on Southampton’s left flank, three of which taking place in their own half.
In general terms Southampton were not very good with their tackling. Midfielders Højbjerg and Romeu had the most attempts with 7 each, but neither completed more than 50% of those — the former found success in 2, and the latter, once a Chelsea player during the years of André Villas-Boas, in 3 of his tries.
Neither were they good in the aerial game. Apart from Romeu who won all 4 of his challenges, players such as James Ward-Prowse (0 in 4) and Shane Long (3 in 11) were plain bad in this regard.
There was however space for clearances and blocks aplenty. Hoedt hoofed 11 balls from danger, and Tadic made 2 of his team’s 8 blocks in Chelsea’s shots.
It was a strange day for Chelsea not only because of the scoreline, falling two goals behind and getting a turnaround in less than 10 minutes. There was also midfielder N’Golo Kanté not in his usual bountiful self, making only 1 successful tackle out of 5 attempts. In fact the most tackles made by individuals were 2, numbers recorded by none other than Cesc and Willian.
At least the Blues did very well in aerial challenges. The backline alone won 16 of those, in 21 clashes between the three of them. Upfront, we were let down by Morata who had lost all of his 2 battles.
Then Giroud arrived at the scene. The 3 of 4 aerial challenges won by the Frenchman being one of the many factors behind his key part in Chelsea mounting their comeback.
Southampton was so unbalanced and biased to their left flank that their shape appear asymmetrical in the player positions map. That of course influenced by Bertrand’s success in his wing-back tasks, as well as Tadic and Long overloading the side when their team moved forward.
Their right flank though was the exact opposite. Right winger Ward-Prowse almost went back to his regular duties as a central midfielder, sitting right next to Højbjerg while Romeu occupied the space between their defenders. Cedric Soares, as the wing-back on the right flank, did not advance much either.
The runs made by Bertrand and co. demanded loads of attention from Azpilicueta and right wing-back Zappacosta, the latter still unable to show he will be able to overtake Victor Moses for a starting spot in the team. As usual, Eden drifted centre and played close to Morata while Willian stayed further back from the pair of attackers.
We should also point out Alonso, drifting almost entirely alone in a sea of empty blue dots on his lane.
If there is a phrase to summarise Chelsea’s 2018 form, it would be “x first-half, y second-half”, ‘x’ and ‘y’ filled by either ‘memorable’ or ‘forgettable’. The Southampton game however was more in terms of “forgettable one-hour, memorable 20 minutes, and nail-bitting 10”.
Chelsea got themselves in a situation they were never supposed to be in, falling behind 2-0 against the 18th-place Premier League team whose last win in the competition was a 3-2 “thriller” over last-placed West Bromwich at the Hawthorns back in February. At least we showed the will to overcome the disadvantage, but it is fair to say our chances of getting out of a hole we dug ourselves into would be slim if this was any team above 10th in the league table.
Maybe this result will propel Chelsea into a good show (and result) against Burnley, who have been surging in form in these last steps of the season with five straight wins since a 1-1 draw with the Saints on February 24th. Top four still remains far from our reach but stranger things have happened. Especially when it comes to Tottenham bottling their chances.