In a season when the status quo is under heavy fire from the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham, Chelsea have managed to cope with the extra competition despite a mixed start to the season. Here we shall be taking a look at some of the team’s most telling stats in defence, midfield and attack and settle who some of the key players have been so far. Moreover there will be a heavily opinionated account of some key issues that the team has faced, and a comparison to last year’s start to the campaign.
After seven games Chelsea sit 3rd in the Premier League, level on points with Southampton and two points behind Arsenal and Liverpool. It’s not been the perfect start – only once have Chelsea managed to score more than two goals in a game – and the away loss to Everton was particularly disappointing. That said, they have managed to get difficult away fixtures to Manchester United and Tottenham out of the way without defeat.
There have been two outstanding figures in Chelsea’s defence so far this season: Branislav Ivanovic and John Terry. This is helped by the fact that they have been, with the exception of Ashley Cole, the two most regular figures at the back.
Ivanovic has played purely as a right back so far, and has done very well to keep Azpillicueta, one of Chelsea’s players of the 2012/13 season, out of the side. It’s well known that between two players that are similar in calibre, Mourinho will select the one that does more defensively, and this seems to be the case in this individual contest. Ivanovic has managed to make the most headed clearances in the side (23), which is impressive considering a centre back would usually be expected to hold this stat. It just goes to show just how vital he is in defending set pieces, because these will be the times in which he has built up this high number. He may not be the tallest of defenders, but this doesn’t prevent him being one of the strongest in the air.
On a separate note, the statistical comparison between Ivanovic and Ashley Cole is quite damming for the latter. They play the same position just on different wings, but whilst Ivanovic has made 40 clearances in total, Ashley Cole has made only 13. Furthermore, while Ivanovic is winning a challenge (of any kind) every 9.13 minutes, Cole is winning one every 17.47 minutes. Cole may have a lot of prestige behind his name, but there is no hiding the fact that he has gone missing in defence this season.
While Ivanovic is Chelsea’s strongest aerial defender, John Terry has been the best all-round. He has the most general clearances in the team with 48, and in truth he is only two headed clearances behind Ivanovic. He suffered under Benitez last season, partly due to the Spaniards’ selection policy, partly due to his own injuries, and Mourinho has received some criticism for using him so regularly in the first seven games this year. However, Terry’s performances have proven that the meritocracy within the squad still stands and he has been both a great defender and a great leader.
Ramires has made and completed the most passes in Chelsea’s midfield this season. 363 completed passes from 414 attempted is far better than Lampard’s second best of 295 completed passes, and it gives Ramires a pass completion rate of 88%. Furthermore, 32% of his passes have been forward. The only midfielder to have equalled that percentage is John Obi Mikel, but the difference between the Brazilian and the Nigerian is that the latter sits deeper on the pitch with the vast majority of his passes going only a few yards. On the other hand, Ramires is far more attacking with many more of his passes being more difficult and coming in the final third of the pitch.
In fact there is a case to be made that Ramires has been Chelsea’s player of the season so far, by virtue of the fact that it is hard to name a player that has contributed quite as much as him. As I have just shown, he is one of Chelsea’s most effective passers, but it is his agility and tenacity that enables him to put in an extraordinary defensive effort, and to also initiate attacks by carrying the ball forwards at his feet. His 24 tackles so far this season at a success rate of 88% is more than any other player, and his 17 dribbles come second only to Hazard. He is a classic midfield engine and will certainly have a huge role as the season rolls on.
The most prominent final third passer has been Eden Hazard. He has made a total of 170 final third passes and 135 of those have been successful. However, with a final third passing accuracy of 79% he is not the most successful attacking passer. Andre Schurrle owns that title with a final third completion rate of 83%. Juan Mata, 81%, is also ahead of Hazard, although neither of those two have had as many minutes on the pitch as Hazard. Oscar has made the second most accurate final third passes with 110, but has the lowest passing accuracy of 75%.
The most creative player in Chelsea’s squad has also been Hazard. He has produced a total of 14 goal scoring opportunities, all of which have been from open play. He has not been as effective while on the ball this season, as most Chelsea fans would tell you, but he has still attempted the most dribbles in the team (29), although only 45% of those have been successful.
With attacking players like Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, Oscar, Schurrle, Willian and Kevin de Bruyne, it should be of great concern to Chelsea that they have only achieved 2 assists from open play all season. Kevin de Bruyne provided one against Hull, and Demba Ba against Norwich, but every other assist has come from a set play. A total of 73 chances have been created in open play, so for only two of these to have been taken is pretty terrible. To put this in perspective, Arsenal have created 63 chances from open play with ten of these being scored, and Liverpool have produced 51 open play chances, with five ending up as a goal.
Chelsea Goal Scoring
Evidently Chelsea are one of the most creative teams in the Premier League. The problem is that they have also been one of the least clinical. As a squad, Chelsea have a shooting accuracy of 43% with only 41 shots on target from 96 (that were unblocked). In total, Chelsea have taken 125 shots (including blocked shots) and to only have scored nine goals means that the team’s chance conversion is 7.2%.
Another worry is that none of Chelsea’s strikers have managed to score in the Premier League in 7 attempts. The top scorer is instead Oscar with 3 goals from 17 shots, his shooting accuracy matching the team at 43%.
At the end of the day, John Obi Mikel has scored more Premier League goals than any of Chelsea’s strikers. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Some Key Player Issues: Eden Hazard
Hazard seems to have lost his mojo a little bit. Mourinho has got him working very hard in defence and he has in fact won the most ground tackles in the whole squad (45). However, in attack he hasn’t really been himself. He may be Chelsea’s most creative player (despite the fact he hasn’t provided an assist yet) but with the ball at his feet and running at the opposition he hasn’t seemed anywhere near as threatening as he did in 2012/13.
There’s really only one way to get this across. Take a look at this video of Hazard from last season just being awesome, and really ask yourself if he has been doing the same this year.
Every time Lukaku scores for Everton there is both a cheer and a whimper from the Chelsea faithful. On the one hand he is growing and getting everything from the loan move that he was meant to, but on the other there is the question of why he can’t do it at Chelsea. Since the move he has scored 4 goals, and is averaging a goal every 64.25 minutes. Only Suarez (60) has a better minutes per goal stat.
So it is easy to point the finger at Mourinho and those responsible for his loan and declare a huge and costly mistake on their part. Perhaps it is, but loaning Lukaku out really isn’t as absurd as it is made out to be.
When most will question whether loaning Lukaku out is best for Chelsea, I would prefer to ask whether staying at Chelsea would have been best for the player himself? Even if he had become the first choice up front, that wouldn’t have stopped Mourinho from having to play the other two on a reasonably regular basis as well. I think that being as optimistic as possible he would have had, at most, 60% of the minutes that would have been available across the whole season, and he would have probably had less than that. At Everton he will get 90-100% of the season’s minutes guaranteed. This final year on loan for Lukaku could be exactly what he needs to grind out the immaturities in his game and develop at the rate that he should do.
Ultimately, there is no doubt that Lukaku will be a better player at the end of this season for making the move. Isn’t that what is most important for both himself and Chelsea?
Juan Mata and Oscar
[sws_blockquote_endquote align=”” cite=”Jose Mourinho” quotestyle=”style02″]Juan has to learn the way I want to play. He has to be more consistent, he has to be more participating when the team lose the ball possession, and I think it is not his fault. It is just the consequence of the way he was playing in the last years, and since he arrived in Chelsea, Chelsea was playing very defensive football, Chelsea was playing with a low block all the time. Now the situation is completely different. [/sws_blockquote_endquote]
Mata was initially alienated from the starting XI for the beginning of the season, and as such it is difficult to grasp anything meaningful from the stats of Chelsea’s two-time Player Of The Year. Above is Mourinho’s explanation for why. Oscar learnt how Mourinho wanted to play very quickly: to press the ball as a high block further up the field – to be proactive and not reactive in defensive situations.
Now it seems, in Mourinho’s words, that Mata is coming closer to him in terms of what he wants from the Spaniard. As such Mata has fought his way back into the team and the dream of Oscar and Mata playing along side each other is being realised once again. For a more in depth analysis of this read – “The Mourinho Philosophy – How Mata Is Adapting His Game To Suit It”.
Although Mata and Oscar are beginning to fit into the same attacking line-up, there are still regular calls from the fans to play Oscar in a deeper midfield position. Personally I think it’s a bad idea. Indeed he could play deeper in midfield because he has a very good ball distribution and is capable of getting stuck into tackles. However, if you play him there he is immediately restricted to the defensive duties and positioning that is required by that role, and his talents of exploiting space and playing on the half-turn are wasted. All that playing him there would do is quench this fan obsession of getting more attacking midfielders onto the pitch, and if we’re honest with ourselves, that is all this call for him to play in midfield is about.
How does that start of this season compare to the last?
It would have always been difficult for this squad to have matched the start to last season, because by this stage in 2012/13 Chelsea had won 6, drawn 1, lost 0. The team had racked up 19 points, scored 15 goals, concede 4, and impressively won away at the Emirates. They were comfortably top of the table and the favourites to win the league (it was nice while it lasted).
It has been a more modest start to this campaign. Instead of 19 points Chelsea have 14, and they sit 3rd in a table which is itself very tight. Just like the other top four teams, they have lost only one game which was to a very impressive and in-form Everton side. Overall the situation looks reasonably positive, albeit not on the same level as last season. It’s still early days, the team has managed to reach 3rd, difficult away fixtures to Tottenham and Manchester United have been played without defeat, and all this has been achieved without our strikers moving into second gear.
If last season proved anything, it is that the first seven games reveal very little about how the rest of the season will pan out. Chelsea are not as well off as they were after this many games a year ago, but their squad has more strength-in-depth, more difficult fixtures have been played and the best starting XI is yet to be settled on. In summary, Chelsea fans should be quite optimistic about the future.