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Tactical Analysis: Are Chelsea bad, unlucky or something else?

As far as teams that divide opinion go, few are more polarising than Chelsea currently.

Everyone seems to have an opinion on them, and no two opinions seem to match. Broadly speaking, everyone acknowledges they are massively underperforming for a club that spent a billion pounds on transfers.

However, some people are putting it down to bad luck and suggest it is only a matter of time before they come good whereas others think they are simply lousy.

It is quite easy to see the argument of those who think Chelsea are just not very good. For one, the league table says they are the seventh-worst team in the Premier League after six matches, of which they have won just one. It gets even worse if we broaden the sample a little more.

Our focus for this analysis will solely focus on the last few games since we only want to assess Mauricio Pochettino’s work which began at the start of this season, but it is worth keeping in mind that Chelsea have not been up to the mark for quite a while now.

When we come to look at this season, we find a few arguments from those defending Pochettino. They mainly take two routes – firstly highlighting that the squad has been ravaged by injuries and also pointing out that Chelsea’s underlying numbers have been quite decent.

The point of injuries is not one that can be contested much after you take even a brief glance at the length of Chelsea’s absentees list, let alone the number of key players that have been sidelined.

(Image credit: Transfermarkt)

However, there’s a good argument to be made along the lines of Chelsea’s transfer spend, as a club that shelled out a billion Euros in the recent past should be expected to do well in any competition even with their ‘B’ team.

So, the point about Chelsea’s underlying numbers and whether they have simply been unlucky becomes the central point of this debate.

Let us take a closer look at them.

The numbers

Looking at Chelsea’s record in the Premier League (GF5 GA6), two things become clear – they aren’t scoring nearly enough while their defence is alright.

They seem to have done almost everything else pretty well, as the statistics indicate they have dominated matches in terms of possession and territory while attempting an above-average number of shots and conceding a below-average amount.

(Image credit: Soccerment)

So where has it gone wrong? Let us take a look at some underlying numbers.

As aforementioned, there is nothing to be too worried about in the defensive department. Chelsea have been among the best teams in the league as far as defending from open play is concerned.

(Image credit: Soccerment)

In attack, chance creation certainly has not been the biggest issue. The Blues have created chances worth over 11.7 Expected Goals (xG), including lots of dangerous cutbacks, crosses and through balls.

(Image credit: Soccerment)

The issue has been their finishing. Despite creating high-quality chances in abundance, their attackers have converted at a rate less than half of what the xG tally suggests would be average.

That is really poor for almost any club of any stature, but simply inexcusable for a club that wants to compete with the best of the best.

(Image credit: Soccerment)

Of course, part of the problem is that Chelsea lack a clinical number nine, but that is not the full picture. No Premier League footballer should sustain a conversion rate less than half of their xG, so Chelsea’s finishing underperformance is simply unsustainable.

That means that it is only a matter of time before they start scoring much more as long as they uphold their current creativity, so the argument that Chelsea have been a bit unlucky seems to make sense.

However, that does not paint the full picture. One thing that is crucial to consider when looking at underlying numbers so early on in the season is the level of opposition a team has faced. In Chelsea’s case, that is not been very high at all.

This chart shows that Chelsea have come away with less than they have deserved based on chance creation in most of their matches, but look at that run of fixtures which includes relegation-contenders Luton Town, Nottingham Forest and Bournemouth.

(Image credit: Soccerment)

So, while Chelsea’s Expected Points tally might suggest that they have been the fourth-best team in England, that does not take into account the full context.

That is not to say that Chelsea have not been unlucky either. They have been somewhere between the fourth and 14th-best team in the Premier League – which is still not good enough for a club of their stature who have spent so much.

We can ascribe some part of that to the fact that their squad is almost completely newly assembled given the number of incoming and departures they have had this summer, but again, that is not the cause of all of their problems.

Pochettino’s mistakes

The manager must also shoulder a portion of the blame, as he has not seemed to have gotten everything right so far.

Pochettino has set his side up in a 4-2-3-1 formation which many data providers have adamantly regarded as a 3-4-2-1, but the reality is that Levi Colwill (#26) has functioned as more of a full-back who tucks in to form a back-three in possession as Chelsea have always with a back-four while Ben Chilwell (#21) has operated as a pure winger.

(Image credit: Soccerment)

This system seems pretty well-suited to Chelsea’s best XI when everyone is fit, but of course, that has never been the case at any point this season.

Sticking to it is understandable nevertheless for the sake of continuity, so the main issue with Pochettino’s decisions has been his usage of specific players.

Most such questions can be posed in midfield, where Conor Gallagher (#23) has been the deepest player in several matches despite enjoying his best years in a more attacking role.

Enzo Fernández has not had his ball progression capabilities leveraged to their fullest and has even been pushed up as a number ten, where he has looked relatively peripheral.

Ultimately, though, these are just some minor details which in themselves are not nearly enough to explain Chelsea’s shocking run of results.

As the statistics suggested, they have been quite unlucky to this point and should get a lot more distance to the relegation zone soon, but at this rate, another season without European football could be on the cards.

Stats courtesy Transfermarkt, Soccerment via and Opta via Fbref.

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