Chelsea may have won yet another transfer window but perceived success off the pitch has not translated to success on the pitch.
The Blues have won just one of their opening six Premier League matches this term under new manager Mauricio Pochettino. Those three points arrived against Luton Town, the team everyone is tipping to finish bottom of the table this term. Chelsea are currently winless in three following their 1-0 loss to Aston Villa on Sunday. They have received more red cards in September (1) than they have scored goals (0).
🟥 Chelsea have received more cards (1) than they have scored goals (0) in September pic.twitter.com/4Snx2P5nFg— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) September 24, 2023
Pochettino’s side have lost their last two games at Stamford Bridge with Nottingham Forest also picking up maximum points during their visit earlier in the month. Sandwiched between those defeats was a draw against a struggling Bournemouth side.
Are Chelsea this bad or have they just been incredibly unlucky under the Argentine tactician?
Well, for starters, they haven’t had much luck with injuries.
The 2021 Champions League winners are currently without Wesley Fofana, Christopher Nkunku, Romeo Lavia, Reece James, Carney Chukwuemaka, Benoit Badiashile and Trevoh Chalobah. Any team would struggle with this number of injuries but Chelsea aren’t like other teams.
Other teams don’t spend the best part of £40m on a centre-back when their other £32m centre-back is ruled out for a few weeks, for example. Other teams don’t spend £40m on Cole Palmer when they already have the likes of Raheem Sterling, Mykhalio Mudryk and Noni Madueke to occupy wide areas while certain individuals are out injured.
So while Chelsea are suffering from a number of injuries, their expensively assembled squad should have the depth to cover. There should be enough quality in their starting XI to beat the likes of Nottingham Forest at Stamford Bridge. Villa are tough opposition but they played on Thursday night in the Europa Conference League, so the match should’ve favoured the hosts.
You also have to wonder why they are picking up so many injuries and why this isn’t being addressed by the medical staff. Is it poor conditioning in pre-season? If you had to put this into a category though, you’d be edging towards ‘unlucky’, right?
They’ve also been unlucky in front of goal this term.
They’re averaging just 0.8 goals per match despite ranking first for possession (67.1%), third for pass completion (88.4%) and sixth for shots (15.2 per game). The Blues are conceding, on average, a goal per game but their underlying numbers are some of the best in the Premier League. Most Expected Goal models have them at around 11.6 - the seventh highest in the English top flight - while their Expected Goals Conceded total is 6.4, a figure only Arsenal and Manchester City can better.
On paper, they have a decent attack and a very resilient defensive set-up.
Pochettino is being let down by individuals.
Nicolas Jackson leads the table for Chelsea when looking at Expected Goals (3.8) but the former Villarreal man has just a single goal to his name. The Blues have created 15 big chances so far this season and have failed to convert a single one. Jackson has been responsible for seven of those misses. It is why, despite creating chances with an xG value of close to 12, they’ve scored just five goals.
On one hand, it is hard to criticise the 22-year-old for this. He was raw in La Liga last term and it was a big ask for him to come in and lead the line for Chelsea. He was going to be inconsistent so you have to wonder why the Blues tasked him with being their main man leading the line. This was entirely predictable. While it is unlucky, it also points to poor planning by the club. At some point, his finishing will balance out but what happens in the interim as Chelsea toil in mid-table?
Defensively, there are similar issues. When compared to their underlying defensive numbers, they are only just overperforming having conceded six goals from an xG conceded total of 6.4. However, some of the goals they’ve allowed this season have been soft and Robert Sanchez isn’t looking like a great signing.
Against Nottingham Forest, he was glued to his line as Anthony Elanga raced clear and stroked the ball into the corner. A more aggressive keeper there narrows the angle and perhaps makes a save. Against Aston Villa, Ollie Watkins scored from an improbable angle, smashing the ball between the legs of the former Brighton shotstopper for the winner.
Chelsea have spent ridiculous amounts of money over the past 12 months but have somehow looked to cut corners in two key areas. They didn’t bring in an elite goalkeeper or a world-class striker and they are now suffering as a result. An optimist would claim this is all bad luck but a realist would acknowledge this is all bad planning.