Even with now a full week to integrate the new with the old, there was reason to believe that our outcome might be based more on individual skill than collective unity. Lest we forget that there are many players coming back from injury and many short on actual game minutes - all that complicates new players who are still learning how and what to expect from teammates and a coach trying to synthesise all of it together. There were a few tactics employed by Potter to help the team seem seamless, but they too only worked with a degree of effectiveness.
West Ham United have been ravaged by injuries and while it actually didn’t too drastically affect what likely would have been David Moyes’ starting lineup, it did affect the quantity he had in support on the bench. That would include one Kurt Happy Zouma, who was sitting out with a hamstring injury after having just returned from a knee injury suffered just prior to the break for the World Cup. The injury to Lucas Paquetá and introduction of Tomáš Souček
as a second goalkeeper exacerbated those injury concerns.
My assumption is that Graham Potter has been building this team towards a 4-2-3-1 shape, and our signings essentially support that idea. That formation does have flexibility in the middle of the park and on the flanks through progressive outside backs, both of which our personnel are now capable. He clearly wants direct and inverted wingers to accompany the wide threat from progressive outside backs. That much was clear even against West Ham, as the most progressive passes played between players were split between the pairs of Marc Cucurella to Mykhailo Mudryk as well as Reece James to Noni Madueke, including one from Madueke to James.
The distance between the players in the team pass map below visualise the progression through tight operating spaces on the right which utilised width well. The progression down the left, with far larger distances between passes in general and fewer connections between Cucurella and Mudryk with Enzo than on the right between James and Madueke with Ruben Loftus-Cheek emphasise the isolation that Mudryk experienced on that wing and demonstrates the connection Enzo had to the centre of the park more than being isolated to his flank, increasing his overall involvement.
Throwing young and new players into the mix is not something that has been rare in the Potter era (7 debutants in as many matches), but he is certainly wasting no time showcasing all of our new signings. While it can be deduced that João Félix is a finished product, the other attackers are in the vein of talent and potential. Potter’s willingness to put in youth with a bit of leniency reinforces the idea of his dedication to this long term project and, if we believe Reece James, that project puts us on track to be among the world’s elite in a short period of time.
Our direct attack in the opening 16 minutes of the game was perhaps a preview of what might become of that potentiality and we looked quite promising, even if demonstrating that lack of cohesion and synchronicity of a newly formed team together for less than a week. Mistimed runs led to goals being ruled out for offsides, but both the willingness to play the pass along with the effort to make the run were there, and both have been lacking at times recently. In fact, while route 1 football was on the menu, it was remarkably almost 70% successful in those first 15 minutes but fell to 42% overall on the evening, finishing with 28 of 67 completed. It’s almost like that had a direct influence on the game, too...
Cucurella and Mudryk, amassing a meagre 21% of the attack down our left, displayed that previously-addressed concern of unfamiliarity all too often. While Mudryk was being tightly marked, unlike the relationship that was actually developing on the right (48% of our attack), all of the ‘progressive passes’ from Cucurella to Mudryk came from a very deep position, being completed outside the final third with the exception of once. Mudryk was isolated much like a few players have been on that left wing when Cucurella is operating behind them, and Mudryk had the fewest touches of our starters (10 fewer than Havertz even) while over half of Cucurella’s touches are in our defensive half. Contrast that to the fact that well over half of James’ touches are in the opposition half and all of his progressive passes end in the West Ham box or final third, and the overall picture of an imbalanced attack resultant from yet another underwhelming performance by Cucurella paints itself - and Mudryk bore the brunt of it.
But most poignant from the evening must be our endless ventures beyond their back line that should have put the game to bed well before they were able to equalise and go on to threaten further. And while subsequently our possession would be resurgent, our attacking threat never truly was, and virtually all things good that Chelsea did ended in the 23rd minute. Asking for two goals from this side is apparently asking for too much at this point in time, and although Kai Havertz had just been ruled out for an offside, the scare of that goal and the enthusiasm from the home crowd incited the opposition to outplay us comprehensively via work ethic and exposing our flanks.
Passes and quick carries down either flank and into our defensive third were too easy between and Chelsea were slow in shifting coverage. West Ham were able to repeatedly beat us, offering crosses, cutbacks, and direct runs into our box, but our marking during their goal is comically bad.
Immediately after Emerson’s first Premier League goal, Cucurella throws his arms up in angst, surely realising he had been flat-footed and marking space while Enzo had a pair of men and Mudryk had (albeit at a slower pace than might have been helpful) picked up the crosser.
Thiago Silva, captain on the day, can be seen angrily addressing Cucurella for the lapse of defensive focus immediately after they score, but there is one other player who reacts almost immediately and notices that problem just as quickly...Enzo Fernández, who had a great first half in particular and clearly has a similar conceptual grasp to Silva, the greatest free signing of all time.
Enzo Fernandez’s first half by numbers vs. West Ham:— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) February 11, 2023
93% pass accuracy
49/53 passes completed
15/18 final third passes
4 ball recoveries
3/3 long balls completed
3 ground duels won
1 key pass
1 big chance created
1st assist for Chelsea. ✅ pic.twitter.com/yLkG2hwhJy
For the first time in a long time, neither of our centre backs had the most touches. Considering again that 48% of our attack came down the right flank, it is not surprising that Reece James led the team with 109 touches. We should be happy with the fact that Enzo Fernández, whose position was focused more on that minimally-used left side, had the second most touches, passes, and carries (all second to James.) Enzo was on the ball often and decisive with it, providing a calming presence similar to Jorginho but an offensive output far greater than our previous no 5. Jorginho was great at what he did, but aside from penalties, offensive product was not it. Fun fact: disregarding 5 outfield players who also managed to do so, Kepa Arrizabalaga actually had more forward carries than Jorginho against Liverpool in what would be Jorginho’s last match in a Chelsea shirt...let that one sink in.
Fernández also adds to his game the grit and work ethic of an ever-absent N’Golo Kanté, if perhaps slightly less positionally aware in defensive cover - justifiably so, as it is not as much his speciality as it is Kanté’s. Enzo also led the team in tackles, interceptions, and blocks and does not hesitate for a moment to get stuck in or recover defensively for his or others’ mistakes. Contrastingly to how he played against Fulham where he was literally dropping deep for possession, sometimes level with the back line, while only venturing forward sparingly, he was much more mobile and attack-focused against the Hammers. This increases his potential, and that he grabbed a finely-crafted assist on only his second game tantalises how great he might become.
There are two things that might help you understand that second half, disregarding the ignored yet blatant penalty shouts. One would be this stat:
0 - There were no shots on target in the second half between West Ham and Chelsea; just the second Premier League match with none after half time this season, after Southampton v Nottingham Forest in January. Fizzled.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 11, 2023
Another would be this second half xG map (or indeed the timing chart posted above):
According to The Analyst, the disparity between our xG (19.98) and goals scored (16) in open play this season is greater than all teams in the top ten aside from the other team mired in mid-table mediocrity alongside us, Liverpool (at 31.19 and 23, respectively). We can’t gloat too much because they do have 9 set piece goals and have scored 13 more goals this season than we. More concerningly, with our only 5 set piece goals, we have actually only scored 21 of our 23 goals this season ourselves - two were own goals. And with 22 goals against in 22 games this season, that output just won’t cut it if climbing the table is our objective.
Since November, and ignoring the two domestic cup debacles against the potentially sinking ship that is Manchester City, we have only conceded twice in a game once (against Fulham weeks ago) and we have not lost by more than one goal. That statistic might lead you to think that we are defensively sound, but here is where it starts to get nuts...
Again, to reference The Analyst, our open play xG against is 22.02 and yet we have miraculously only conceded 14 goals (thank you, Thiago Silva.) Aside from Fulham (28.59/21) and Newcastle (14.15/7), no teams are anywhere near that amount of quality chances being prevented that perhaps could have otherwise been converted. In fact, applying to all years the data is available, unless they are or were a defensively focused, counter-attacking team, most teams are level or in the red in this stat.
And yet, prior to the arrival of Badiashile, I wouldn’t have dared to claim that we were defensively set. Since him, in four games, our collective xG against has dropped nearly a full goal to the four games prior, and his performances are becoming noticeably more bold. He put in crucial interventions and provided essential support in defense on that right side that was hounded by West Ham, seeing over 50% of their total attacking movements. He is one of the many youthful talents that create a feeling of hope and harbour expectations for this team that go well beyond this season. That said, Chelsea fans don’t typically react with patience, and glimpses of a potential future don’t add points to our current campaign. With the Champion’s League back this week, the time to ensure wins are the priority is now.