Last season, Chelsea labored through multiple growing pains, chief among them, defending set pieces. We were the butt of jokes and memes about the woeful number of goals conceded from opposing corners.
By the end of the season, Chelsea would concede ten (10!) goals from corners.
Safe to say, our form in that regard, eleven matches into the new season, has evolved rather dramatically. What was once a well known glaring weakness has become a prominent strength. Chelsea have conceded just two goals from opposition corners — not the lowest in the league, but more importantly not the highest! Combined with improved defensive organization, the couple we have conceded have not signaled disaster either.
It may be easy to point to Chelsea’s new backline and goalkeeper for the marked improvement, but credit should also be given to the coaching staff for their continued work.
Has any team had more of a transformation than #CFC in recent weeks? From conceding on a regular basis to five clean sheets in six games. Here's a piece explaining why things have improved at the back - unsurprisingly Mendy and Silva get a mention: https://t.co/krGaf8GqkY— Simon Johnson (@SJohnsonSport) November 4, 2020
It would be remiss to not call out Édouard Mendy, whose presence alone has brought a completely refreshing sense of solidity between the posts. Thiago Silva hasn’t featured in all matches, but his performances have been great excluding the now hilarious draw against West Brom that seems like ages ago. Fellow newcomer Ben Chilwell has done well defensively, as has now firmly established starter Reece James.
But one of the most important aspects to this turnaround lies on the head and shoulders of Kurt Zouma, who not only has been a consistent figure in defense, but has finally found the consistency to be a consistent force — at both ends of the pitch. His goal against Leeds marked his fourth of the season already.
GOAL! Another Chelsea goal from a corner - their seventh of the season. Zouma heads home.#CHELEE pic.twitter.com/DqVmeSNr8M— Goal (@goal) December 5, 2020
And that may be the most surprising part of this whole evolution. Not only have Chelsea become solid enough at defending corners, we’ve been become absolutely devastating in attacking corners.
Seven goals through eleven matches from corners is quite mind-blowing. Through the 38 matches last season, Chelsea scored only 10 goals from corners. At the rate we are going, we’re on track for a hilarious 24 goals from corners, even though realistically we’re not likely to maintain this ridiculous pace.
Chelsea’s conversion rate at corner kicks is 12 per cent, effectively scoring from one in every eight. It is the highest in the Premier League and nearly double that of second-placed Everton (6.3 per cent). It paints a picture of a team who pose a big threat from set-pieces against a side in Leeds who have not always coped well in defending them under Bielsa.
- Source: The Athletic
And sure enough...
By the end of the 90 minutes, Chelsea had won eight corners, converting one, the aforementioned header by Kurt Zouma. Right on average. Such consistency will be key as Chelsea look to truly resurrect this prowess from the days of John Terry, Didier Drogba, Branislav Ivanović, and Gary Cahill.
Kurt Zouma has scored more goals than any other centre back in Europe's top 5 leagues (4)⚽️— ChelseaFCBlogs (@ChelseaFCBlogs_) December 6, 2020
No wonder John Terry is getting worried about his record #CFC | @KurtZouma pic.twitter.com/hO9NRjWC8n
Consistency in scoring goals begins with consistency of execution, and Chelsea certainly showed that quality against Leeds as well, generating eight shots from nine set piece opportunities (eight corners, one indirect free kick).
That’s a success rate of 89 per cent, including a Havertz header on a Reece James free kick. Only one corner out of the eight failed to hit a Chelsea target — Giroud the primary beneficiary with three opportunities from Mason Mount’s pinpoint deliveries (including the header in the 8th minute that he flicked on towards the far post, leading to Werner’s most jaw-dropping double-miss).
Chelsea dominated Leeds from set-pieces:— lil yatty (@yatco) December 7, 2020
Chelsea (orange) recorded 8 shots out of 9 opportunities from corners/set pieces
Leeds (blue) recorded 2 shots out of 4 opportunities from corners/set pieces
Source: @WhoScored #CFC #CHELEE pic.twitter.com/WEI60zUK60
Chelsea’s ability to “win” corners, at both ends of the pitch, is proving a rich source of goals and wins, including on Saturday when Zouma’s goal gave us the lead and his defending played a big part in preserving that lead to the end.
No team will ever be perfect on set pieces and corners for an entire season, but at least immediate anxiety isn’t triggered just by watching the ball go behind for a corner.
It would seem that Chelsea have really turned a ... corner ... in this regard.