Analysing Chelsea's defensive problems during the 2019/20 season

Analysing Chelsea's defensive problems during the 2019/20 season

It has been a good first season for Chelsea under Frank Lampard, as they have finished in the top four and qualified for next season’s Champions League. They have an opportunity to win their first trophy under the club legend, as they contest the FA Cup final with Arsenal next weekend. Some have criticised Lampard, as the side have fallen away from a strong start. However, he will point his critics towards the pre-season odds, which suggested that a top four finish was unlikely following the exit of Eden Hazard.

Many in the media predicted them to miss out on Champions League qualification, with concerns over Lampard’s inexperience and the transfer ban limiting what he could do. The focus within the club seemed to be on the development of youth players. Lampard has managed to bring through the likes of Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, Billy Gilmour and Reece James to the first team. All four have a long term future at the club, which underlines the value the former player has brought to the dugout. In addition to player development, he has managed to maintain a high level of success.

Going into the summer, the media and supporters will be demanding that Lampard fixes the defensive issues that have plagued his first year in charge. Chelsea have conceded 54 times in the Premier League, which ranks them as the joint-11th best defence in the division. This isn’t good enough for a side that has ambitions of developing into a title contender. However, the underlying numbers show that the defensive woes aren’t a systematic issue and Lampard should take encouragement from that.

According to Understat, Chelsea have an expected goals against (xGA) of 41.09, which is significantly fewer than the 54 they did concede. In this metric, they rank as the fifth best defence in the division, only slightly worse than Liverpool (39.57 xGA) who conceded fewer goals than any other Premier League team. The eventual Premier League champions conceded 21 fewer over the course of the league season, despite similar underlying defensive numbers. Lampard needs to take a greater look into what caused this.

The main conversation has been focused on Kepa Arrizabalaga and it seems that Lampard believes the goalkeeper has been a factor in the number of goals Chelsea have conceded. The Spaniard was dropped for the crunch game against Wolves and it wasn’t for the first time this season. According to FB Ref (powered by Statsbomb), the post-shot expected goals (PSxG) of the shots he has faced is 35.8. This is the amount of goals an average goalkeeper would be expected to concede. Kepa has conceded 47 Premier League goals during this time.

Taking own goals out of the equation, he has conceded the difference between his PSxG faced and goals conceded is -9.2. This is the worst of any goalkeeper in the Premier League. It would be hoped that a goalkeeper that was brought in for a record fee would have a positive impact on the team, but that isn’t true for Kepa. To put the above into context, Bernd Leno (+7.3), David de Gea (+2.7), Alisson (+2.4), Ederson (+3.1) and Hugo Lloris (+9.9) have all outperformed their PSxG faced this season. Chelsea are the only team in the traditional top six that has a goalkeeper struggling to keep shots out.

Sky Sports report that Chelsea want to sign a goalkeeper this summer, with Andre Onana, Nick Pope and Jan Oblak on their shortlist of targets. This shows that the belief in the club is that the goalkeeper position needs to be sorted if they are to improve their defensive record.

Another issue for Lampard is the centre backs. Considering the money spent in attack and the rumours about a goalkeeper, there might not be a budget to sign a better centre back. However, the manager needs to decide on a pairing build around. This year, he has had Kurt Zouma (25 Premier League starts), Andreas Christensen (21 Premier League starts), Antonio Rudiger (19 Premier League starts) and Fikayo Tomori (15 Premier League starts) to pick from. The number of starts of each show the issues that Chelsea have had finding the correct pairing.

All four have shown themselves to be good options, but it is Rudiger and Zouma that look to be the best two options. The selection on the final day showed Lampard shares that view, as the pair played with Cesar Azpilicueta in a back three and the team kept a clean sheet.

The style of play used by Lampard means that the team are susceptible on the counter attack, but the defensive issues are not as bad as they are made out to be by many. As a team, they made nine defensive errors leading to a shot, which is the third fewest of any Premier League team. The underlying numbers suggest that Chelsea were unfortunate to concede as many as they did during Lampard’s first season in charge. A new goalkeeper should be a priority and the latest reports show that the club are aware of that. If they manage to bring one in, it would be a surprise to see them concede as many in the 2020/21 campaign.