The mediocrity that has enveloped Chelsea’s play continued this week as they found themselves on the wrong end of Klopp clicking. Or at least they failed to provide anything like enough of an attacking threat to expect to win the game. But from the start of the season, the primary problem has been on the defensive end:
2-3-2-2-3-0-2-3-0-2-3 Chelsea league goals conceded per game 2015-16
— James Yorke (@jair1970) November 1, 2015
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Trying to win matches when your defense is habitually giving up two or three goals is a strategy with an incredibly small success rate- only once against West Brom has it paid off- and it has shown little sign of correcting itself as the season has worn on. In fact, with the presumption that remedial action is being taken to reformat this Chelsea team via the traditional Mourinho bedrock of defense first, it’s somewhat surprising to see that the initial knock-on effect has been the opposite: an apparent castration of their attacking balls. Their last four games have provided an average of nine shots and three shots on target per match and unsurprisingly given that paucity of attacking verve, they’ve contrived to lose three of them.
The many corners of the football community are now puzzling over what has become – and forgive the garbling of concept- a flock of black swans enveloping Stamford Bridge. The idea of tiredness has been repeatedly mooted- kudos to Benjamin Pugsley for noting the then bionic nature of Chelsea all the way back in January and Michael Caley updated these concepts just this week- and other sources have looked into issues around pre-season. Dissent in the camp and a lack of dressing room love for Mourinho seem to be likely contributors, especially given his wide experience of the good times being good, and far less of the bad times being bad and now we’re seeing a bit of chat around whether or not this could have been forecasted?
It seems that predicting this failure lies outside the realms of objective analysis; even a negative projection of Chelsea’s season would have undershot the reality of the situation by some margin. There was evidence that this team landed the title with less than electric late underlying numbers, but that in itself didn’t project a continued decline. The first game statistical mauling at the hands of Swansea was so outside accepted Mourinho parameters as to be a large red flag but throughout the subsequent weeks there has been a wide and understandable presumption that they will improve- and soon. Ten weeks on and with only one win per month under their belts, we are no closer to knowing whether this is the bottom. At home to a Liverpool side still learning their coach’s methods might have been a good spot to impose themselves: no, not a bit- between scoring and fifteen minutes after Liverpool equalised Chelsea didn’t muster a shot on goal. This is bad form and what you would expect to see from a legitimately bad team.
Maybe it’s purgatory for Mourinho? Sentenced to conduct Match of the Day interviews after miserable defeats for all eternity as his employer looks on portraying indifference and enacting peak passive aggressiveness?
November is the wrong time of year to look for the green shoots of recovery and now once more looking for a simple fixture, they return to Stoke instead- fresh from meeting defeat there in the Capital One Cup- before what could be a long international break. No matter, the stage is set for the jettisoning of a Portuguese manager, his replacement by whoever is available, another Champions League victory and a thwarting of Tottenham and their well deserved fourth place.
While we’ve entered the era of the expected goal, there’s still significant value in looking at what has actually happened, so this week we have some player goal contribution numbers. Reformatting raw numbers by stripping out the penalties and converting them into per 90 rates will always give a more accurate rendition than a simple scoring chart too, so here we are.
First chart is based on playing a minimum of~75% of minutes, so we’re looking at as reasonable sized sample as we can get at an early point and the second one picks up a series of non-qualifiers that have nonetheless started well also, but with injury or selection limiting their time. For the top scorers here there is a lot to do to continue at such a level. If we kindly drop the season long limit to two thirds available minutes, only six players have exceeded 0.90 goals and assists per 90 over the last six seasons: Agüero twice (11-12 and 14-15), Drogba (09-10), van Persie (11-12), Walcott (12-13) and Sturridge and Suárez (13-14). It’s a rare occurrence and implies that most of these early achievers will likely fall back. It also shows that 0.9 is a figure only exceeded by scorers, no pure creative type has exceeded that boundary; indeed Juan Mata’s 12-13 season of 0.78 is the first to register a higher assist to goal rate. Özil and De Bruyne have the quality to put up a huge season, but can they keep it up?
A few things, some beyond the obvious, that stood out:
As is normal, when the bookies chalked up some early prices for relegation, the three promoted teams were all quoted at short prices. The jump from Championship to Premier League grows ever wider and without a coherent strategy of strong investment, gaining a vague foothold can prove beyond even well run and organised clubs. The Burnley model, though admirable, is not one which predicts long term existence within the top flight.
This season, each of our newcomers have had sporadically bright starts. Early on Bournemouth seemed competitive but having been scythed down by key injuries and now slumped into bad form against good teams, look extremely vulnerable. The positive aspects of their game are that they concede shots at a similar rate to Arsenal (~10 a game). The catch here is that they have contrived to concede over 20% of them. Their save percentage is under 50% while Arsenal’s is over 80%. That translates to a difference of about 1.5 goals per game. Their general shot numbers are okay, but it’s preferable that your keeper doesn’t readily shovel the ball onto the striker’s feet as was seen against Tottenham.
It’s tough when you’re new.
Norwich, with a team largely inhabited by a similar group of players who were relegated from the league two seasons ago have followed seven points in five games with no wins in six and now four straight defeats, all the while failing to keep a clean sheet. They too look to be up against it long term.
That only leaves Watford who have done an excellent job of racking up points through a reasonably balanced schedule. Villa, Norwich and Sunderland all feature in their near future before a horrible run of five tough games around Christmas and any addition to the 16 points already pocketed will give them an extremely strong base for the New Year.
With a veritable United Nations of signings over the summer, it had looked as though Watford were using the QPR method of recruitment; buy everyone you can and hope it works out. However, their play couldn’t be more different to QPR, they are hard to break down- i’m delighted to see Heurelho Gomes back in the league- and have only conceded more than once in three of their games, against City, Arsenal and Everton. This is where their results against lesser teams have been so vital, they’ve got nearly nothing when they’ve played better teams.
But so what? Last year’s plucky newcomers Burnley had a reputation that preceded them after a couple of good results against top sides, in the interim few people noticed how badly they were performing against the teams around them in the relegation mix. In contrast, Watford have so far shown themselves to be competitive in the majority of their games.
On the down side, Ighalo is running a little hot with seven goals from 35 shots and nobody else has contributed offensively. Eventually, they will need more goals from others but in a league where you only need to be better than three, they’ve given themselves a solid chance of achieving just that.
You might as well call this an entertainment index as here we have average shot volumes per game. Most notable and impossible to ignore is Man Utd’s position on the chart. Last, and by some margin, Utd games have been featuring under twenty shots per game this season- or around the same as Arsenal and City take themselves, if you like- and the last two weeks -12 shots in the City game and 15 at Palace- have been particularly low. That van Gaal’s system should be so restrictive at both ends despite the extremely high investment in new talent could not be more different to that which was seen under Ferguson. More happens in matches involving Pulis. Yep, put four centre backs on the pitch and your team is more exciting than Man Utd.
Otherwise, go and enjoy football in London. Arsenal take a ton of shots themselves and aren’t as mean as Man City defensively and Palace, Tottenham and West Ham round out the top four here with plenty of shots at each end. And Chelsea, obviously.
Beyond this shots are being converted at a slightly higher rate so far this year than is usual, around 10.5% compared to a long term average of around one percent less and nearly all of this has occurred over the past five weeks. October has been a month of goals and a decrease in saves, the more free form teams have taken a slight upper hand- for now- but it will likely drop back in the coming weeks. Certainly if Louis van Gaal has any input, entertainment will remain a minor consideration.
Thanks for reading!
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