A disappointing January transfer window has left Frank Lampard frustrated due to the lack of acquisitions and has left them with a huge target on their back. Their top-four rivals, Tottenham, Manchester United and even Sheffield United all came through with strong buys in January improving their ranks. The lack of activity has also left the fanbase in a state of vexation. Chelsea were linked with several names including the likes of Edinson Cavani, Moussa Dembele, Timo Werner, and Dries Mertens but all inquiries and bids were rejected. The current squad is riddled with questions; they have suffered from inconsistencies and exposed flaws that need addressing. But now with the Premier League winter break amongst us, let’s take an in-depth look at the squad and see what our current strengths and weaknesses are.
1. Attacking Creation. Taking into account all the dilemmas we have thus encountered, it is not that easy to come up with many strengths. However, there are quite a few that are important to point out. One that really has changed compared to last year, is the number of chances created in the offensive third. Last year under Maurizio Sarri, Chelsea looked lackluster at times, unable to break teams down, and leaving the fan base frustrated and agitated with the seemingly stagnant ‘Sarri Ball’. This lack of patience led to Sarri leaving, but the offensive instincts remain and have not been forgotten. Chelsea still show the ability to build up from the back and breakthrough opposition press. Sarri liked to play out from the back, invite pressure and quickly linkup one-two passes between players to find gaps between the lines. That is how the current team also functions. Lampard has shown an interest in having two, comfortable-on-the-ball-Centre-Backs, as well as building through Jorginho who usually dictates the midfield. Chelsea are also looking promising with the ball in the opposition third, which is pleasing to the eye. Chelsea are among the top ranks in terms of attacking ( currently third for expected goals, third for passes into the final third, third for shots on target and as well passes in the penalty area). They are fourth in Big Chances created with 49 (behind Leicester City in the league who has 53). They are also fourth in goals per game with 1.7 GPM goals per match. Manchester City, Liverpool, and Leicester City all average higher goals, with all of them having a GPM higher than a 2.2. There is no denying Chelsea are quicker and more direct than they were last year and are showing glimpses of what they can do offensively.
Chelsea are also strong possession-wise, averaging a 59.9% possession rate which is only slightly less from last year. Frank Lampard has shown flexibility at times, willing to opt to a back three when necessary. He has deployed a back three against big teams such as Tottenham and Arsenal. The team has still shown the capability to retain possession despite being in different formations. Lampard’s most used formations are the 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 and a 3-4-3. The shapes vary off the ball and in possession, but the young side has shown strong linkup play to break the press and find gaps behind the defense. We have seen the blues perform well on the ball and show offensive intuition (unlike several other clubs who like to set up defensively). Frank Lampard has said that he wants a pressing offensive team, though that might require acquisitions. But the young side continues to create chances in the final third despite not getting on the end of them.
2. The young attacking core: One of the biggest strengths Chelsea have is their core of players from their youth academy. They also have other strong quality players in Mateo Kovačić and Jorginho who show their value on the pitch but a lot of those young academy players have stepped up and shown what they can do. Starting off with our main goal scorer, Tammy Abraham, who has had a breakout season as many doubts were cast on the young Englishmen before the season started has earned his way to the England squad. The striker position was a big question mark as Chelsea could not get anyone last year in the 2019 summer window due to their transfer ban. Tammy Abraham made that position his own when he scored a brace against Norwich and Wolverhampton Wanderers. He has been Chelsea’s first-choice striker since with Michy Batshuayi and Olivier Giroud not doing enough to overtake Abraham as Chelsea’s main striker. Tammy has developed his ability on the ball and also his finishing to the point where Chelsea constantly relies on the 22-year-old to score.
The blues have had two possible future star wingers in Christian Pulisic and Callum Hudson-Odoi with both showing top Calibur characteristics on the pitch. Pulisic’s dynamic style of play is also another strength as the young American has displayed his strong attacking instincts in the box with his off the ball runs. Pulisic’s strong play put him in the starting lineup over Hudson-Odoi in late October showing Lampard what he was capable offensively of when played. On the other side, Callum Hudson-Odoi directness and sharp instincts on the ball is what made him so special last year and has been up and down ever since coming back from his Achilles injury but has clearly shown what he can do when full of confidence. One of his strongest outings this season was when he came back from injury in October instantly spraying out assists that would help out Chelsea win games and Chelsea’s FA Cup draw against Nottingham Forest. These three youngsters have the ability to be a very strong potent three in the future with them still being young and showing signs of being special. There’s probably one more enigma in this Chelsea team and its quite obvious and that is Ruben Loftus-Cheek. His ability to drive with the ball and suck in opposition players to open up the wide areas is a strong area they currently lack. In the 2019/209 campaign, his dribble success rate was at a 65% rate, third-highest behind Eden Hazard and Mateo Kovačić. His strong presence in midfield has been missed all season and with a lot of progress in making a return, fans will be happy to see their young gem take the pitch once again.
3. Reece James. With that being said, there is no denying that right now Chelsea’s most valuable weapon is Reece James. The young fullback had an impressive spell at Wigan Athletic and won player of the year in the Championship. Cesar Azpilicueta’s age has caught up to him recently with subpar performances earlier in the season while Reece was out injured. His return came at a crucial time and has demonstrated how effective his attributes can be. His passing has been a huge plus for Chelsea adding an extra layer of offense to their game. Reece James has a 72.0% pass completion rate (longer than 25 yards) while averaging 1.5 crosses per game.
His counterpart a veteran captain, Cesar Azpilicueta has only a 58% pass completion rate (longer than 25 yards). That is a significant difference between the two fullbacks pinpointing Reece James’s amazing ability to spray out long-range passes especially in the box. His big physical frame allows him to instantly match the physicality of the Premier League while also being quite efficient defensively. The tackles success rate for Reece James is 80% and averaging 1 interception per game. Standing at 6″ foot tall, James has a good body for a young age. Reece is also not particularly fast yet makes up with his effort and positioning on both sides of the pitch. He is engaged in 6.41 offensive duels, coming off on top 57% of those duels. In his spell at Wigan Athletic, he had a 2.76 dribble completion rate per 90 min with an 84.8 dribble success rate. That has declined this season but not severely currently possessing a 74% dribble success rate which is still a high percentage. His presence will continue to help Chelsea this season if he maintains being healthy.
1. Defensive woes in our backline (Multiple Parts). This past December Chelsea started to see the cracks that were swept under the rug get exposed to the light after their International break in November. We all witnessed a crumbling defeat to Manchester United 4-0 in the league opener but ever since then, Chelsea have gone on to win 9 of their next 15 games in all competitions. Even when Chelsea were winning earlier in the season, you could see the flaws and lack of composure at times. This is a very young side and inconsistencies will come but some defensive weaknesses have a recurrent factor for Frank Lampard and is a worrying sign. Starting with our backline. Last year our back four consists of David Luiz, Antonio Rüdiger, Cesar Azpilicueta, and Emerson. The only few changes that happened last year was Marcos Alonso getting rightfully dethroned by Emerson who proved his worth throughout the latter parts of last year and Andreas Christensen filling in for Rüdiger who suffered a knee injury late last campaign. This year has been a combination of a remake and juggles with different defenders being deployed on the pitch.
With the sale of David Luiz, Frank Lampard issued the stay of Fikayo Tomori and Kurt Zouma who came back from a loan from Everton last year. Reece James also stayed put but was out with an injury that kept him out till mid-autumn. a. Centre-back. The centre back has been a huge question mark all season long with different combinations of input. The centre back pairing of the disastrous loss against Manchester United was Kurt Zouma and Andreas Christensen. Chelsea looked good in the beginning stages of the match until a mistake from Zouma cost them a penalty & for United to open up the scoring. Against Wolverhampton, Chelsea issued a back three for the first time since Antonio Conte with Lampard being concerned with the goals that were being conceded. Fikayo Tomori, Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rüdiger started that game.
The pairing that brought us success earlier in the season was Fikayo Tomori and Kurt Zouma. Tomori’s amazing athleticism allows him to be proficient on the ground with a 77.8% ground success rate but is prone to mistakes such as being out of position that hurts Chelsea overall. He often makes it up with his pace and showed his ability to stay with pacey defenders especially when dueling against Mo Salah earlier in the season. This is the same with Rüdiger who is sometimes overpraised and gets caught out of position leaving his backline exposed on the counter. We witnessed this when he over-challenged in a game against Leicester City in their last league fixture allowing the foxes to create an attacking opportunity. There hasn’t been a consistent pairing so far and questions were asked in January weather Chelsea wanted to purchase a centre back. One name in specific that was rumored was Nathan Aké. The 24-year-old Dutchman who grew up in the Chelsea academy was linked to a move back to London. His strong defensive awareness might’ve been useful but no bid ever came for him in January.
The current Chelsea team have a goal conceded per match rate of 1.4 which is 9th in the league. They have conceded 34 goals all season which is already 5 short of what they had all last year which was 39 goals. b. set-piece defending. An alarming weakness in our backline is set-piece defending. The team only have a 16.5 clearance per match rate and have 1.4 goals conceded per match while Liverpool and Leicester have 0.7 and 0.9 respectively. All these centre backs have their own strong suits but have all have shown to be shaky at times. As a collective unit, Chelsea looks nervous when defending aerials despite having strong aerial players in Kurt Zouma who has a 75% duel success rate in the air. A recent example was the last match against Leicester City when Jonny Evans when bullishly shoved Andreas Christensen to the side on a corner and had a free header but fired it wide. Andreas Christensen is a tall defender at 6’2 but lacks physicality and strength compared to Zouma or Rüdiger nut reads dangerous scenarios well.
c. Left-back. Another key factor that has plagued Chelsea this season has been the left-back position. Neither Emerson or Marcos Alonso are Chelsea’s first choice. Emerson had a good spell last year and earlier in the season before going out with an injury against Liverpool in late September. He has not been the same since and was at fault for Aubameyang’s goal in the London Derby in December. Marcos Alonso has also been up and down performance-wise and was rumored to a move to Inter this past January. On the other side of the pitch, we have Cesar Azpilicueta, Chelsea’s current skipper. He was also under fire when he started to show signs of aging and losing a step or two allowing defenders to get past him with ease in the Right-back position. Reece James earned his way as Chelsea’s first-choice right-back but Cesar Azpilicueta’s strong defensive instincts and versatility has allowed him to stay in the lineup as the current left-back. Both Marcos Alonso and Emerson have not done enough this season to cement the position as their own and instead, Lampard has chosen Azpilicueta to be Chelsea’s current left-back, a position he hasn’t played since 2016. Despite having experience at left-back Chelsea know this can not be the long-term solution and several names have been linked to Chelsea. Ben Chilwell from Leicester City and Alex Telles from FC Porto are the players that been most rumored to a move to London. It is still unclear whether Emerson or Alonso will earn their way back into the side.
Kepa Arrizabalaga has been under scrutiny this season with a severe drop of performance and most recently getting dropped to Willy Caballero against Leicester City. His huge price tag is Chelsea’s most expensive transfer at (€80 million / £71.6 million) with Chelsea activating his release at Athletic Bilbao. He had a good spell last season with 14 clean sheets and 82 saves. He had a 67% save percent rate and looked like he could be one of the brightest young goalkeepers this season but has proved otherwise. He currently has a 55.6% save percent rate and a 20.8 clean sheet percentage. He’s also only had 5 clean sheets all season but defense is a unit and team effort and the whole backline has a lot of question marks. Kepa’s form is currently very poor and there are already rumors of replacements with Andre Onana from Ajax and Mike Maignan all being linked to Chelsea. Other rumors have surfaced in the past month is that reportedly Frank Lampard is not satisfied with the young Spanish keeper and already has pleaded to the board to start scouting for a replacement. There is also uncertainty whether we will see Kepa Arrizabalaga back on the pitch as Chelsea’s number 1. With the spotlight on Kepa, any more opportunities given to him, he will have to perform to impress.
2. Tactical flaws
Frank Lampard has reiterated that he wants his side to be more direct and quicker on the ball. Last year under Maurizio Sarri we saw snippets of what Chelsea could be under the Italian manager. They were bright moments when moving the ball swiftly but a lot of the majority, Chelsea were stagnant on the ball and the hypnosis on “Sarri Ball” made the outcome even worse with devastating losses to Bournemouth where they loss 4-0 and 6-0 to Manchester City. In the late stages especially in the Europa League, we got to see a sharp Chelsea destroy Arsenal 4-1 in a pleasurable fashion. Even tho Chelsea had the likes of Eden Hazard and Arsenal’s poor defending to thank, they still displayed a performance worth noting. Despite the departure of Sarri, the 4-3-3 has been used several times this season and even produced one of Chelsea’s best performances of the season which was against Liverpool in the UEFA Super Cup. It could be said that Chelsea were the better team that day but their lack of finishing led to them go to penalties which ultimately did not go Chelsea’s way. The 4-3-3 was criticized last year under Sarri but has helped Chelsea currently with Lampard showing flexibility in his formations. But in that game vs United where they loss 4-0, a lot of flaws were found out and that punished Chelsea. United exploited Chelsea’s weakness and that was the vulnerability on the counter.
In the picture above, demonstrates how Chelsea were left open in the middle of the pitch and Manchester United hurt them in transition. It also shows how Chelsea’s press is unorganized. Many times this season Chelsea have looked edgy in midfield. A good example is when Chelsea first played Leicester City in August where the drew 1-1. Chelsea performed well in the beginning stages of the match catching outplaying the foxes for a good 30 minutes but after the goal, they looked lackluster and lost especially in the second half. Leicester did a good job retaking control of the midfield and having James Maddison who originally was deployed at left-winger. free roamed in the second half. He started to move all over the pitch confusing the Chelsea defenders and Maddison had a huge impact on the game, linking up with several Leicester City players and also being involved with the goal.
Another strong flaw that Chelsea need to address is their pressing. This coincides with the previous tactical weakness, a vulnerability in midfield, due to the fact that Chelsea’s press is sometimes unorganized and opposition teams can easily break through the lines creating attacking opportunities.
In the picture above, Chelsea fail to press as a unit allowing the opposition to break through their lines easily and having a lot of space to utilize in their counter. The space between the lines is vast and as often led the Chelsea defense to look exposed. Chelsea did improve in this matter reverting a 4-3-3 off the ball, a system they’re used to where the lines are even and not many gaps to work with for the opposition. Frank has also used a back 3 to help reduce the goals conceded but their main and most used lineup is the 4-2-3-1 where Mason Mount is pressing as a second striker along with Tammy in what almost looks like a 4-4-2 shape when pressing. Another example is when they are pressing high along with the fullbacks only leaving the center-backs to defend.
Arsenal used this tactic when they had one man short (David Luiz given a red card) and Arsenal looked to hurt them on the counter. Chelsea got confident and pushed a lot of players high up the field and when they lost possession Arsenal quickly got on the ball and pushed Martinelli to run against the Chelsea defense where he evidently scored the equalizer. Arsenal continued to sit back not allowing space and expose the Chelsea gaps behind the midfield.
3. Lack of Finishing
One of the biggest weaknesses that Chelsea have had is their finishing. Many games this season, Chelsea looked in control of the match but their inefficiency to put games away has led to disappointing results. In the matches against Bournemouth and Newcastle, the blues dominated in terms of possession and looked like they were the better team but ultimately ended up losing both those matches. Lampard issued his discontent to the media signifying he wanted additions in the January window. He was left disappointed when Chelsea failed to secure any players in the window leaving Lampard with no assistance in the front line. Chelsea currently have 43 goals in the league, 11 in the Champions League, with 66 goals in all competitions. Chelsea are third in the league in shots on target with 5.8 shots per game yet only averaging 1 goal per game. Chelsea’s inability to put their chances have been recurring tune all season. Tammy is their main goal scorer with 15 goals in all competitions yet has only 2 goals in the last 10 games. His form has dropped but has also been out with an ankle injury. Chelsea’s second main scorer is Christian Pulisic with 6 goals, behind him is Mason Mount and Willian each with 5 goals. The difference between first and second is huge and this could be an issue for the rest of the season.
As stated earlier, Chelsea do a good job creating attacking opportunities, they just do a good job finishing their chances. They are third in big chances missed with 45 behind Liverpool who has 47. They are up there in offensive creation but their final quality is often enough is underwhelming. This could change with the return of Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Christian Pulisic rumored to be back soon and could help strengthen Chelsea’s attack. The blues also seem to lack a playmaker in the final third to rely on to create chances and moments of magic. Eden Hazard was that player last year and it is evidently showing in this current campaign. Chelsea as a unit needs to be more clinical when given the chances and that doesn’t just apply to Chelsea’s front line, it applies to every Chelsea player on the pitch or on the bench. They were several chances for many Chelsea players to score from set-pieces especially corners where they had a clear cut chances but did not end up scoring.
All eyes were cast on Chelsea’s higher-ups as no recruitments came in January and Lampard even issued a statement saying in the press conference, “I certainly wanted to bring players in and I’ve made that pretty clear over the past few weeks but that clearly hasn’t happened”. Chelsea will have to rely on their current squad and youth to grind out a top four to qualify for Champions League football. February has a hefty schedule for the blues as they face Manchester United and Tottenham in the league and then Bayern Munich in the Round of 16 of Champions League. Thes matches could be pivotal and could change the outcome of the season for Chelsea. Despite having a lot of concerns, Chelsea still have a lot to look forward to in the future. They have a strong young core of players to build around and as well as having the funds from the sales of former players. Constructing a top team around players will be the task of Marina Granovskaia and Company. The board is on the hot seat as if Chelsea fail to secure top, the board will be responsible for not backing Lampard’s demands this past window. Their weaknesses will continue to plague them if they don’t improve throughout the rest of the season. Chelsea are an offensive-minded team and will create plenty of attacking opportunities but their delicacy in composure and lack of finishing could be a hard obstacle to hurdle over. The Blues are no doubt in a transition period and progress will take time but will have to muster up an extra layer of vigor and endurance to finish in the top four.
SOURCES: Fotmob app, Onefootball app, Nouman, whoscores.com, FBRef.com, TotalFootballAnalysis.com, InnerViews(Youtube), Football Made Simple(Youtube), givemesport.com, Premier League App, Pictures: @KristenPulisic