Among the many glaring issues at Chelsea these days is our lack of success on set pieces, featuring neither attacking threat nor defensive solidity.
While these statistics are not exactly easy to define (when does a set piece become open play, for example?), are by definition small samples, and are certainly not kept officially, FBref shows us as having given up five (5) goals from dead balls — joint second-highest in the Premier League — and having scored just three (3) goals of our own that were preceded by a dead ball action (i.e. free kicks, corners, throw-ins, goal kicks).
Anecdotally, we’re terrible at defending corners and free kicks (especially on a second ball) and we’re toothless on attacking corners and free kicks — certainly when reminiscing about the goal-scoring exploits of the likes of John Terry, Gary Cahill, Branislav Ivanović, and Marcos Alonso. They all averaged roughly 1-in-10 for their Chelsea careers, combining for over 150 total goals that seemed even more plentiful than that.
We’re often left to wonder what we might be doing on the training ground to address these shortcomings — emphasis on “short”, if you’re of certain tactical persuasions and beliefs — but Mauricio Pochettino assures that we’re indeed working hard on these things and it’s simply a question of quality rather than effort and intention.
“We work a lot on set-pieces. We have (coaching) specialists. We are a coaching staff in charge of everything. We have a group of analysts for set-pieces. After that, it is about the quality of the player. It is about the takers. We don’t have a specialist (player). Maybe Chilly is good in the delivery, but we don’t have a specialist after that.
“If you want to be good in set-pieces, we work a lot. But then you need good takers. When you have good takers, and of course, Wolves have good takers, and like Manchester City have, or other clubs. It is not down to the work. We work similarly, but the problem is to have good takers.
“Look before at West Ham, and after. What changed? After and before? It’s not the same. The taker is [James] Ward-Prowse. For sure, you can work, like West Ham were working. But now, you add a player like him, you increase the percentage. That is football. Football belongs to the players. Not to the (coaching) specialists.”
-Mauricio Pochettino; source: Metro
West Ham do indeed have better success than we do, though it’s Arsenal who are far and away the best team in the league at set pieces so far this season. They’ve scored eleven (11!) goals that were preceded immediately by a dead ball; West Ham are second best but have just half as many at six (6). Though I suppose the lesson is the same. You need good takers, just as you need good finishers.
That said, Chelsea’s attacking set piece statistics don’t look all that different from Manchester City’s. We both have 3 set pieces goals and have generated 30-ish shots from dead balls (33 for us, 36 for City). Liverpool lead the league with dead-ball shots generated (65) but also have just three goals to show for all that.
So perhaps set pieces are just one part of the whole puzzle.
As with most of the other issues plaguing this squad, it comes down to execution, to determination, to focus, to mentality — with the baseline assumption that we have the requisite talent and quality to back that up (which I suppose is really the biggest question about this team still; are we or will we ever be really as ... “good” ... as we’ve been led to believe by how much we’ve invested).
P.S.: For what it’s worth, West Ham were midtable in these same set-piece statistics last season, pre-JWP. Chelsea were similarly terrible as this year.