Should Chelsea be concerned about Raheem Sterling?

Should Chelsea be concerned about Raheem Sterling?

It has been a slow start to life back in the capital for Raheem Sterling. Todd Boehly would be brought the England international into the club in the hope that he can inject winning mentality into the squad. Sterling has had a great career for club and country, but he hasn’t been able to build the personal legacy he would want. At Manchester City, the system was prioritised over individual performances. It has taken a generational talent like Erling Haaland to stand out in their attack.

The move to Chelsea was an opportunity for Sterling to become the leader of a Champions League attack. Last season, Romelu Lukaku was the big name signing, but the Belgian failed to deliver the performances that the club wanted from him. A poorly timed interview ended his chances of being a success. Sterling won’t suffer the same fate, but there are rightly concerns about his performances.

To preface the following analysis, it is worth stating that Sterling hasn’t had a defined role in the team. He would have expected to be one of the regular starters in attack. So far, he has played across the forward line, while Graham Potter has experimented with him at wing-back. This constant changing of position will have disrupted Sterling’s rhythm.

In his 11 Premier League appearances, he has registered three goals and one assist. This will be viewed as a big disappointment for Sterling, as he is off the pace required to reach 20 league goals. He reached that landmark at Manchester City but hasn’t done so since the 2019/20 season.

The underlying numbers are concerning, as he isn’t producing the output that Chelsea would have expected from him. He is averaging 1.88 shots per ninety minutes. He was always averaging more than two during his time at Manchester City and peaked at 3.29 in the 2019/20 season. It would be unfair to attribute the low shot volume to Sterling alone, as it is a common trend across Chelsea attackers.

In terms of non-penalty expected goals (npxG), the worrying attacking trends continue across the squad. Only three players have a total npxG of more than one. Sterling is the leading Chelsea attacker, with 3 npxG in total. This matches his return of three goals scored. He is finishing to the standard expected.

He is averaging 0.31 xG per ninety minutes. Only Armando Broja has a higher average (0.34) in the Chelsea squad and the majority of his minutes have come as a substitute.

Interestingly, Sterling is also the most proficient creator in the Chelsea squad, with a total expected assisted goals (xAG) of 1.9. The forward averages 0.2 xAG per ninety minutes. Only Conor Gallager and Reece James (both 0.25) have a higher average.

After digging into the numbers, it looks like Sterling is doing as much as he can in the Chelsea attack. He is certainly their most dangerous attacker, when taking goal threat and creativity into account. The bigger issues lie in the team’s attacking patterns as a whole. Chelsea have a total xG created of 14.8, which places them as the 13th best attack in the league.

For a team currently in the Champions League, that isn’t good enough. It would be unfair to attribute the blame on individuals, as all attacking players are struggling to produce in the final third. That suggests it is a system issue, rather than the individuals being in poor form.

Potter will be trying to get through to the World Cup break. That break will allow him and his staff time to fix the problems, even if a lot of players will be in Qatar. The experiments over Sterling’s position need to stop. He is producing good underlying numbers in attack considering the team’s struggles. He needs to be played in the forward line to extract the most from him.

It is too soon to write his signing off as an error, despite the low returns so far.

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