Chelsea endured a subpar pre-season campaign, especially in the goals department. They put two past Club America, just one past Charlotte, and were trounced 4-0 by Arsenal without so much as a single reply.
They improved over the last two friendlies with Udinese but again lacked ruthlessness in front of goal in their season opener against Everton. Jorginho’s penalty may have been enough to help them past the stubborn Toffees, but the handwriting was already on the wall. They need to find ways to score more goals.
Judging by the numbers they put up last season, their ability to score did not always look like much of a problem. However, it would have to considerably improve if they plan to upset the already established two-horse title race.
The Blues were at the top of the table early in the season but found themselves behind Manchester City and Liverpool following a drop in form around December. They had to watch from a 19-point distance as the title race went down to the wire.
Chelsea scored 76 goals as they finished third in the Premier League last season. At times they were ruthless in front of goal, especially when they put seven past Norwich and six past Southampton, but they failed to show that killer instinct regularly, which separates them from the top two. City scored 99 times on their way to the PL trophy, but it was no walk in the park as they beat Liverpool (who scored 94 times) to the crown by just one point.
Following the Chelsea takeover, Todd Boehly promised to back Thomas Tuchel with up to seven new players to help the German close the gap with the top two.
They have brought some quality reinforcements, especially in defence with Kalidou Koulibaly and Marc Cucurella. However, they have so far added just Raheem Sterling to the struggling attack.
While Sterling has given the Chelsea faithful a preview of what is to come as he sparked life into the attack against Frank Lampard’s side, it was clear he would need additional support upfront to get the Blues firing on all cylinders again.
Lacking Quality? Failure to Create? Both?
Some sections of the Chelsea fanbase believe the club struggles to score a lot of goals because they do not have a recognised striker. That opinion would have been valid five years ago, but managers, especially Pep Guardiola, have shown it is possible.
The Spaniard won the league, scoring 97 goals without a nine. Those numbers were only possible because he enjoys an array of creative playmakers in his team, and Chelsea needs that. Manchester City missed the most big chances of any of the teams that finished in the top four last season (65), followed by Tottenham Hotspur (60) and Liverpool (59).
The difference between those teams and Chelsea, who missed the fourth most big chances (53), is that City (97), Liverpool (87), and Spurs (84) all created far more big chances than Chelsea (72), allowing them a certain leeway to miss a few.
It is simple, if you fail to create enough, you fail to score enough, and Chelsea have struggled to score because they struggle to create enough chances. Hence the need for more creative playmakers or forwards in the team.
Mason Mount was Chelsea’s top scorer and assist provider last season with 11 goals and ten assists. Those numbers show he was a standout performer for the Blues, but it should be worrying for Tuchel as Mount is more of a creator than a goalscorer.
Tuchel had to switch to a three-at-the-back system to salvage a sinking ship that was leaking goals in defence when he first arrived. He has since stuck to his guns and used his wing backs in ways that make them creative while also carrying goal threats. However, his style would also require the WBs to cover defensively, which means they have to get up and down the length of the pitch constantly.
It worked a treat until Ben Chilwell suffered a league-ending injury, leaving Mount, who played as a right-sided forward because of his creativity, and Reece James as the primary creators. It wasn’t long until James started struggling with niggling hamstring injuries, which reduced his playing time, and sometimes saw him slot in at RCB to protect the hamstring.
The only other wingback options were Marcos Alonso and Cesar Azpilicueta, and let’s face it, you’re not catching the top two with those two in a system that requires creative wingbacks. The lack of quality in squad depth, especially in creative areas was detrimental to the Blues’ title charge, and they plummeted.
Mount was the last creative output standing he delivered the best he could. He ranked eighth in the PL and first in the Chelsea team for chances created (44). He also ranked first in the team for expected assists (6.9), with Reece James coming second (4.8) while Alonso came third (3.4).
The problem with having only one creator was that on his off days, the team would struggle even more. Mount, like every other player, had days like that, and RJ’s injury problems did not help the situation. However, with a new season comes new opportunities, and Chelsea have taken theirs by bolstering their wingback options with the signing of Cucurella.
The 24-year-old could prove a shrewd acquisition for Chelsea, especially with Chilwell still on a path to his old self. Last season, only Trent Alexander Arnold (51) and James (42) created more chances than the former Brighton man (40) of all the defenders in the league.
Chelsea may have been better off letting Cesar Azpilicueta leave and bringing in a more creative and capable replacement for James at RWB, but the team had already lost a lot of experience with the departures of Rudiger and Christensen, and Tuchel couldn’t risk it.
Despite having Thiago Silva and bringing in Koulibaly, who also boasts a lot of experience, Azpilicueta staying would be a major boost for Tuchel.
The Misfiring Gunmen
Mount was tasked with creating, and he did, but the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Kai Havertz, Timo Werner, and Christian Pulisic, who should be getting the goals were firing blanks. They only managed to score 26 times in the league between them. For context, that’s three more than Mohamed Salah and Son Heung Min (23) got as they finished as the league’s top scorers.
You could argue that the current crop of Chelsea attackers have underperformed because they come from different situations and may not be a perfect fit for Tuchel’s system. However, it does not justify having more big chances missed (23) than goals scored (10) in two seasons, as in the case of Turbo Timo.
While Tuchel’s system may not be maximising the strengths of the attacking players or minimising their weaknesses, the players (besides Mount) have also failed to adapt. They have shown potential and have at times teased with snippets of what could be, but they have failed to find consistency, which frustratingly cost Chelsea a lot last season, especially in the Champions League.
Sterling is a goalscorer, who also possesses the trickery and dribbling ability to fashion chances for himself, but he only solves half of Chelsea’s problems in attack. While Tuchel loves to use his wingbacks as creators, the importance of a creative forward to go with Sterling’s goal-scoring prowess cannot be underestimated.
The current ones have struggled to score, let alone create, which proves the Blues need another forward aside from Sterling. It should preferably be someone who is adept at creating as he is scoring like the former City man (links to Memphis Depay and Wilfried Zaha are encouraging).
Chance for a Proper Rebuild
Chelsea are in a transitional period with new owners at the helm, who have shown ambition by backing Tuchel with their transfer business. Tuchel is one of the most tactically intelligent and organised managers in the world. His structure and tactical setup has shown it can produce goals. But he’s not Superman, and there’s only so much he can do to improve the output of his attackers.
The Blues have held onto mediocre players for sentimental reasons for too long, and it is time for a proper rebuild. Timo Werner’s departure to RB Leipzig could open the floodgates for the likes of Hakim Ziyech, Marcos Alonso, and Callum Hudson Odoi to leave, prompting an influx of signings in the final three weeks of the window.
The quality of forwards that Tuchel took over from Frank Lampard has not delivered on its promise, but this summer, he has a chance to do away with the players who don’t fit and build a team that no one wants to play against.
By: Onyekachi Uwanabi / @__Kachi_
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Darren Walsh / Chelsea FC