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Keep, Sell, Loan: Forwards

Squad planning, position by position

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Chelsea FC - Premier League Photo by Andrew Kearns - CameraSport via Getty Images

We’re going to use a different approach than the other articles. Previously, we had a player-by-player breakdown for each position, but seeing the trouble that Chelsea have had in the attacking area for a good few years now, it feels redundant to run through each forward at the club currently. The fact is as good (or as poor) as their individual numbers may have been over the last twelve months, the collective attacking influence has struggled. Change is needed to get this side back into the upper echelon of the league’s attacking numbers, and the hope is that new incoming coach Mauricio Pochettino can help implement a system to get the team there. However, the personnel will still play a part, and we’ll still go through a suggested keep/sell/loan at the end….

Fulham FC v Chelsea FC - Premier League Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

The 2022-23 season has been one to forget for many reasons: the fewest number of points the club have ever garnered in the Premier League and a lower-half finish only begin to tell the story of just how disastrous the last nine months have been. There are reasons, both on and off the pitch, for this dramatic fall from grace, such as several changes to the surrounding departments (medical, recruitment, ownership), four different managers, and a bloated playing squad of 30+ players for the latter half of the season. It’s hard to pinpoint just one reason, but if we wanted to evaluate the performance metrics to see where Chelsea fell short, then the attacking area is a good place to start.

In terms of goals scored, Chelsea were only 15th in the league. Even typing that is absurd. Relegated sides Leicester City and Leeds United scored more and even 20th-placed Southampton finished with just two goals fewer. It’s bad, and it’s not even as if the underlying metrics paint a prettier picture. Chelsea did place 11th in xG, and were the third-worst for Goals-vs-xG difference (Everton & Manchester United the only teams more “unlucky”). There’s not too much comfort with the stats here though, as the Blues were far behind our usual rivals. The sides who placed in the top six this year averaged around 72 xG for the year, which shows just how much improvement is required for this expensively-assembled side.

Chelsea’s xG output has been on a downward spiral since early last year, which won’t be news to anyone. The attacking impetus of the side suffered with injuries to Reece James and Ben Chilwell, with a slight bump up to 1.46 xG per game for the second half of this season. It’s not much, but at least there has been a slight improvement in this metric, although the actual output has dropped from 2.15 to 0.87 goals per game.

In terms of actual finishing, goals have been in short supply. Kai Havertz led the way in the league with just seven. This has been a recurring issue, as Mason Mount led the way with eleven goals last year, and Jorginho topped the charts with seven in 2020-21 — all of which were penalties. Chelsea have been crying out for a reliable goalscorer since the days of Diego Costa, but have yet to find a replacement. Álvaro Morata came and left within two years of signing for £60m, Romelu Lukaku’s stay was even shorter and almost double the cost, Tammy Abraham seemed to be the answer but was quickly cast aside by Thomas Tuchel and sold to AS Roma the following summer. In terms of finding that diamond in the rough in the upcoming transfer window, expectations must be managed. Victor Osimhen will cost £130m, Daniel Levy would rather sell Tottenham itself than sell Harry Kane to Chelsea, and Dušan Vlahović has only scored ten league goals in a weakened Serie A.

Leaving the striker situation to the side, let’s zone in on Chelsea’s overall attacking style to see how our numbers compare to others. Looking at the shots category we can see why this side struggles to put the ball in the back of the net.

Across the league, Chelsea are in the top-half for shots per-90, which seems fine on the face of it. However, only 31.4% of our shots hit the target, which is 15th-best for the season. This translates to a side getting a decent amount of shots, but not getting quality looks. And even that is being generous as Arsenal, Manchester City, Manchester United, and Liverpool all averaged over three more shots per game, and managed to hit a higher percentage of their shots on target, despite attempting more.

The goals per-90 chart below makes for even more grim viewing. Chelsea ranked second-worst for goals per shot, and goals per shot-on-target. The ranking of actual shots isn’t quite the issue; carving out quality looks, and converting them, is. Title winners, and title challengers, Manchester City and Arsenal averaged double the amount of goals per shot, reinforcing where we need to improve next year.

While Chelsea had poor xG numbers for the year, we actually performed worse in the Goals-vs-xG category. Only Everton ranked clearly lower, scoring 13 goals fewer than expected. Chelsea underperformed our numbers by over 12 goals. It’s one thing to not create quality chances, it’s another thing to miss them when they do fall your way.

According to FotMOB, Chelsea had the worst chance conversion among the top 12.

Not only did Chelsea miss a greater proportion of big chances than most, we created fewer than many others as well. The sides finishing in the top-6 averaged 87, thirty more than Chelsea’s 57. That’s quite a shortfall!

Individually, Kalidou Koulibaly was the best performing in the personal G-xG metric, whereas Kai Havertz was the biggest culprit with a (-4.8) score. It is worth noting Havertz had almost double the npxG score than any of his teammates, but it’s arguable whether he should be the one relied upon, or even played as the furthest forward.

Now let’s look at the team’s creativity. Chelsea actually placed 7th in expected assists with 35.3, but we fell some way behind the rest of the big six, with Manchester United at 44.6 as the next best team in this category. In terms of key passes (passes that directly lead to a shot), Chelsea rank 8th with 9.87 per-90, and again placing a fair bit back from the rest of the top sides in the league.

For final-third entries, and passes into the penalty area, Chelsea were 5th-best in the former, but 7th in the latter. This feels similar to the shots vs shots-on target-metric, where the Blues are able to get into something resembling a decent position at times, decent enough to have a shot, and enter the opponents goal-bound area. However, once there, the execution is lacking.

Chelsea are in the 42nd percentile when it comes to the amount of final third passes that account for passes into the penalty area. Interestingly, Manchester City rank lower, and are 14th in the league, but this is likely due to their overwhelming possession-maximizing playing style involving plenty of patient build-up play.

In terms of goal-creating actions, Chelsea rank a paltry 13th, and actually created 100 less GCA than Manchester City, who led the way with 168. Once again the average for the best teams is far ahead of us (125 vs 68). The average for the best sides without City is still an impressive 119.

Another feature of a successful attack is how good we are at carrying the ball, and being able to take-on opponents. Chelsea had the most attempted take-ons in the league with 833, and completed the most take-ons as well. However our success rate pushes us all the way into the bottom half, to 12th. Chelsea players were also tackled the most when attempting a take-on.

For what it’s worth, Chelsea rank quite favourably in the carries category. For carries, and total distance from these attacking actions, Chelsea constantly place in the top 4. When it comes to carries into the final third, we ranked just behind Manchester City, who lead most of these attacking metrics.

It’s hard to know how much stock Pochettino will put into these numbers. The current squad have been able to do some things adequately when it comes to attacking intent, but when it comes to the important part, you know…scoring, we’ve fallen at the final hurdle over and over and over. Perhaps a more solid midfield will allow those in front to focus more on attacking, and also allow for James and Chilwell to push forward. It might be that Poch refers to his favoured 4-2-3-1 as a means of getting the best out of a new-look attack.

The good news is that in his years managing Tottenham, they never finished outside the top five in goals scored. In his lone full season at PSG, they scored 90 league goals. The bad news is that he had the likes of Son Heung-Min, Harry Kane, Neymar, Lionel Messi & Kylian Mbappé in his squad during these times.

RB Leipzig - Eintracht Frankfurt Photo by Jan Woitas/picture alliance via Getty Images


So there we have it, the review of a long, painful season for Chelsea, much of which reflects itself in the attacking numbers. It’s hard, if not completely unfair, to blame the poor performances on any one player, but it’s expected that a clear-out in these ranks will happen this summer, with Christopher Nkunku already lined up to join over the next few weeks. Here’s what I think will happen with the current squad.

Christopher Nkunku, Mykhailo Mudryk, Noni Madueke, Armando Broja, Kai Havertz, Raheem Sterling, new ST signing

Romelu Lukaku, David Datro Fofana

Hakim Ziyech, Christian Pulisic, João Félix (end of loan), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

All stats from FBRef unless otherwise stated

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