This weekend there were several interesting games in the Premier League. Liverpool managed to overcome an initial wobble to keep up their 100% start with a win against Newcastle United. Norwich City beat Pep’s Manchester City to hand the Champions their first loss of the season. Arsenal, somehow contrived to lose their way and drew against Watford. But if a side really turned the page this gameweek, it was Chelsea.
This weekend, after a long time, we saw the Blues play like a team in contention for top four, if not in the title race itself. Chelsea won five-two against Wolves at Molineux, grabbing their second win of the season. It was a performance that their rivals, especially the fellow top-six clubs are bound to take notice of.
Chelsea’s performance on Saturday was much better than most of their performances this season. In almost all aspects, Chelsea improved. But of all the aspects they improved in, I think their shooting was the most improved. This is the aspect that we will delve deeper into in this post.
Chelsea’s Shooting Before Wolves
If we look at Chelsea’s shooting in the first four games in the league, we see that they were shooting quite a lot. In four games, they had 68 total chances, of which 55 were from open play. Thus, they were shooting at a rate of 17 shots per game, of which 13.8 were from open play. Of all their shots however, only 25 were on target, which resulted in a total of 6 goals – 5 from within the opponent’s box and 1 from outside of it.
Their xG per shot (all attempts) was a mere 0.082 and from open play attempts only it was 0.087, both a bit lower than their last year averages of 0.098 from all attempts and 0.096 from open play attempts respectively.
In my view, this difference is primarily because of the shooting distance. Last season, of its 607 goal attempts, 378 (62.2%) were from inside the opponent’s box. However, in the first four games, of their 68 goal attempts, 38 (55%) were from within the opponent’s box.
In fact, a case in point was Chelsea’s opening game against Manchester United. The Blues’ shot-map looks like Frank Lampard had sent them with an instruction of “shoot at sight”. In that season opener, Chelsea took 18 shots, 9 of them from outside the penalty box, 7 shots on target and 7 off-target. De Gea managed to save 9 of Chelsea’s shots and 4 were blocked.
A bit of Chelsea’s shooting tendencies could have been a result of early-season nervousness, especially under a new manager. The shooting could also have been spurred by facing defensive opponents such as Manchester United, Sheffield United, and Norwich City. But like Manchester United’s numbers above show, the Blues were struggling due to their long-range shooting.
Chelsea’s Shooting against Wolves
Even against Wolves, their first meaningful attempt was by Tomori who shot from a few yards outside the box to score Chelsea’s first goal. But then Chelsea found a succession of chances from inside the box and not from outside. In fact, Tomori’s goal was the only shot from outside the box. This means that of Chelsea’s 15 total attempts, 14 were from inside the box, resulting in 5 big chances (equal to all the big chances created by Chelsea in the league before the Wolves game).
In xG terms too, this yielded a benefit as xG per shot from all attempts was 0.18 and from open-play it was 0.213. This is obviously in line with expectations as closer a team shoots from, the higher will be it xG. The resulting shot-map above shows the change in approach from Chelsea’s attack.
Next Opponent: Liverpool
Chelsea’s next Premier League opponents, after their Champions League game against Valencia, are Liverpool who are third from bottom in terms of shots conceded per game – 10.4 per game. Their xG Against per attempt conceded is 0.097 and the Reds have conceded only 29 shots from inside the box in their first five games.
These stats mean that Liverpool are going to present a tough challenge to Chelsea’s new found successful style of working the ball into the opponent’s box before shooting and may force the Blues into shooting from distance. That has yielded less than optimum results for Frank Lampard’s men so far.
Even if they are unable to break down tough, high-pressing opponents such as Liverpool, as a strategy, Chelsea need to think of breaking down opponents and getting the ball into the box before taking a shot. With their ongoing transfer ban, Lampard has been forced to think outside the box in terms of team selection. However, when it comes to shooting on the pitch, his instructions better be to think inside the box.