The numbers behind Chelsea’s start to this campaign provide a confusing picture.
On the surface, Thomas Tuchel’s Blues currently sit top of the Premier League after seven games with 16 points on the board – split between five wins, one draw and one defeat.
In attack scoring the second-most goals in the league, only behind Liverpool and having the best defence matched with Manchester City only conceding three. None of which coming from open play which makes the Tuchel’s men the only team in Europe’s top five leagues to do so via WhoScored.
Chelsea will return from the international break with a run of favourable fixtures to strengthen their place in the league and correct some of the attacking frustrations felt so far.
Though when delving deeper into wider trends focusing on xG (Expected Goals) and pressing, Chelsea have appeared pretty erratic throughout their games.
Outperforming certain numbers, varying in their tactical approaches from game to game, and probably showing how different personnel alter what Tuchel’s system is – or isn’t capable of.
Chelsea have become masters at underperforming their xG for a few seasons now. Creating high-quality opportunities that have been spurned sometimes by unbelievable proportions. Chelsea’s wasteful streak in front of goal was probably most demonstrated by the fact no Premier League side underperformed their xG more following Tuchel’s arrival in the second half of last season.
This season though has provided the inverse of that trend, with the Blues showing a clinical streak – mostly aided by the arrival of Romelu Lukaku from Inter Milan.
Netting two goals from his two shots on target against Aston Villa in September helped the Blues win a game they would have very likely drawn or lost last term. Though Lukaku’s lack of touches and shots on target have proved unsustainable to maintain his strong goalscoring form.
Chelsea produced their highest xG score of the season so far in the 3-1 win against Southampton before this international break, only a week after their lowest of the Tuchel era in the disappointing 1-0 defeat to Manchester City.
Via data provider WyScout, Chelsea are averaging an xG of 1.71 in the Premier League so far this season, 1.76 if you include other competitions. Overall we are outperforming our expected numbers, scoring 1.80 more than predicted.
Digging a little deeper provided a slightly concerning picture over whether Tuchel’s men can maintain the level of creativity needed to stay near the top of the league. Just taking the overall xG score created at the final whistle can sometimes produce a misleading picture over the actual quality of chances created.
For Chelsea, this season, the two 3-0 wins over Spurs and Crystal Palace probably best summarise this. Both were comfortable wins for Chelsea in the end, though when looking at the value of xG from the goals, the highest came from Christian Pulisic’s scuffed tap-in against Palace on the opening day with a score of 0.59. Anything over 0.3 in the model is usually known as a decent opportunity, though all of the other goals in both wins created a value of under 0.1.
In comparison to their title rivals, both Liverpool and Manchester City have amassed a higher average xG than the European Champions. In good news, the game against Southampton provided proof of Chelsea creating better chances, with both Trevoh Chalobah and Timo Werner’s goals creating a value of over 0.5.
Producing that level of creativity will be vital for Chelsea in the coming weeks against more favourable opposition in an effort to help the attack click and get Lukaku back to goalscoring ways.
One of the trademarks of Tuchel’s style is his belief in counter-pressing, which was evident in the opening weeks of his time at the club as Chelsea looked more cohesive and able to retain the ball higher up the pitch.
Given Tuchel’s first pre-season, the expectation was at the beginning of this season we would see a clearer, more refined level of pressing. This has not happened, with Chelsea wildly varying their intensity from game to game. It is fair to point out this can be because of the type of opponent, game-plan, uncontrollable events within a game that force Chelsea to alter their approach. The most obvious example this season being Reece James red card in the 1-1 draw against Liverpool.
The strongest metric we have to analyse the level of pressing for a team comes from PPDA (Passes per defensive action) a metric to quantify high press intensity, introduced by analyst Colin Trainor in 2014. PPDA only takes into account pressing in the final 60% of the pitch.
Tuchel’s side averages a PPDA this season in all competitions of 12.87 – the lower the number indicates more intense pressing. Chelsea’s highest PPDA so far was in the 1-0 defeat away to Juventus (4.12), where the Italian giants sat in a deep defensive block and frustrated Chelsea.
The reasoning for this compared to last season can be attributed to the introduction of Romelu Lukaku – a lower pressing player who was recently found to be the third-lowest in the Premier League in the first seven games – with only Allan Saint-Maximin and Cristiano Ronaldo below him.
This has created teething problems as Tuchel has dealt with accommodating a more focal presence in an attack that didn’t have one in the second half of last season. So adapting to Lukaku means the level of pressing would expectedly dip, as well as accounting for the fact Chelsea play in a defensively secure system that does not regularly commit tons of bodies forward so Tuchel can maintain to strong shape in his 3-4-3 formation.
Comparing Chelsea’s PPDA to Liverpool and Manchester City also paints an interesting picture again.
Both of Chelsea’s title rivals have a higher PPDA this year with Man City (9.44) and Liverpool (8.94) showing a more consistent pressing pattern.
But this is probably an example of two clubs that have entrusted coaches with time and patience to implement a clear vision over a number of years, whilst at Chelsea, the opposite is usually the case – meaning coaches like Tuchel are forced to prioritise the short-term and veer to more counter-attacking football which may limit Chelsea from matching a clearer vision over a longer period.
Given concerns over attacking play and differing levels of intensity from game to game, Tuchel may be forced to alter his approach to a more daring one, taking more risks in games Chelsea are expected to win if goals dry up.
It has been long rumoured whether a back-four system could be used at some point this year to give another of Chelsea’s attackers the chance for more minutes in a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1. We have got a glimpse at this with Tuchel’s very recent move to include Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Ross Barkley, changing our midfield to incorporate more attack-minded players rather than the more defensively sound double-six.
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Source by Football London