It’s been approximately three months since the season began and Chelsea have done quite well so far. Top of the Premier League, 2nd in the Champions league group, last eight of the Carabao Cup. We’ve completed some tough games as well. Away to Liverpool, Arsenal and Spurs completed and we got 7 points out of that. Let’s take a look at the season so far and see what we’ve found.
Chelsea sold talent worth £130m and spent £98m on Lukaku making a healthy profit in the window. There was also the loan deal for Saul Niguez and a free transfer of third choice keeper Bettinelli. Lukaku has admirably led the line and automatically starts when fit. A return of 4 goals isn’t bad while he still adjusts to the club and his new teammates. Niguez has been a disappointment when featured. He might be limited to cup games when our best players need a break.
Surprisingly though, we had a few returning loanees as well. Trevoh Chalobah has been the brightest among them all. He has contributed with two goals and while still not an automatic starter when everyone else is fit, he has made six appearances. Malang Sarr couldn’t find a club to go on loan, but he also started a premier league game and played in a couple of cup games.
Further up, the resurgence of Ruben Loftus-Cheek is the biggest plus. Playing in a deeper than usual role, he has more space to glide past opponents and isn’t measured on scoring metrics anymore. As Ngolo Kante works through fitness issues, he has taken his chance with both hands.
Ross Barkley also didn’t find a club willing to take him with his high wages. He knows that he won’t start 90% of the games. But he has shown a positive attitude, come on against Villa and played the killer pass for the winner, played a cup game and came on when we had the game sealed against Norwich.
Overall, there was one statement signing in Lukaku, one loan signing in Saul which I’m glad there wasn’t an obligation on and one failed signing in Kounde which may be revisited. 4 loanees returned to the team which was not expected but been a breath of fresh air.
Chelsea sold a lot this year. They had the maximum incomings of all premier league clubs. Marina Granovskaia is unmatched in generating revenues for players in the fringes of the team. While more and more clubs are loaning out players, Chelsea have transitioned from loan to selling with buy back clauses. This is based on expectations from FIFA to limit the number of loanees allowed. Staying ahead of the curve in the transfer market is what helps Chelsea remain competitive against clubs like Liverpool and Manchester United who have more revenue.
Notable first team players who left were Zouma, Abraham, Emerson, Gilmour and Giroud for a combined £80m. While these players were valued and helped us achieve our goal, none was in the best Chelsea XI.
Some loaned out players from last season was also sold. Tomori, Guehi, Zappacosta and Moses generated about £57m in sales.
There were some notable academy graduates who were also sold. Bates and Livramento stand out amongst them.
Chelsea were smart to insert buy back / first refusal clauses in some promising sold players. Abraham at 80m is a lot of money but if he performs over the next two years and develops his overall game, it might be worth considering. Livramento at £25m in 2023 already seems like a steal when he could potentially replace Azpilicueta in the team.
Formation and players used
While there has been some chatter about going to a four in the back, Tuchel has mainly stuck with a three. Our defense is the best in the league conceding on 3 goals and two of them were penalties.
Mendy has been a rock at the back. His performance against Brentford isn’t spoken about enough. While Kepa is an admirable deputy, we will certainly miss Mendy in January when he goes for AFCON.
In defence, Rudiger has been ever present, Chalobah has got more minutes than all of us expected and performing well. Thiago Silva has played in the important games and Christensen has grown into a reliable ball playing defender we all expected.
Reece and Azpilicueta have rotated on the right to good effect providing width, assists and goals. Alonso started the season in great form, scoring goals and getting assists but he had a couple of poor performances especially against Juventus and Chilwell has taken over since. He has scored 3 goals in consecutive games and it was notable how he gets in the left half space close to or inside the penalty box.
Further up the field, Chelsea have switched between a two in midfield or a three occasionally (3-4-3 and 3-5-2). Mason Mount is usually the connection between the two, but he was given some rest and used sparingly over the past month before Norwich. The 3-5-2 against Manchester City really struggled to create opportunities or connect with Lukaku. Last season, Chelsea were almost exclusively a 3-4-3 with two tens’ as Tuchel calls them.
Kovacic has been the standout performer adding assists to his play that was previously missing. Jorginho has done his thing and continues to be a great conductor of the game from his deep midfield role. Kante was great against Spurs but been injured more than usual. We will need him in the second half of the season, and he seems to step up in important games. Just got to keep him fit. Ruben Loftus Cheek has started deeper than normal which has given him space to glide past players. It places further emphasis on his defensive attributes, but he has done well without making glaring mistakes. Saul had a poor half against Aston Villa. Not sure when we will see him again in the league.
Chelsea’s forward line have had a mixed performance even though we are second in goals scored. Lukaku bullied Arsenal’s defense scored quality goals against Villa and broke the deadlock against Zenit. He has also missed some quality chances though. He has made some great runs but hasn’t been found, tried to build some chemistry with Werner on the top but that’s still a work in progress. Chelsea started with a 3-4-3 with Havertz and Mount around Lukaku but then switched to 2 up front with Werner as the above two lost form. The others have largely been rotated. Ziyech was amazing in pre-season but got an injury and tailed off, Pulisic started the first game and then got injured, every coach at Chelsea seems to want more from Hudson Odoi.
Goals, Expected Goals (xG) and Expected Goals Against (xGA)
Every good team and title winner outperforms their xG. Chelsea so far are no different. In the Premier League, our xG is 15.1 but we have scored 23 so far. Our xGA is 10.3 but we’ve let in only 1 goal from open play and 3 goals in total. This is one of the reasons why Chelsea are top of the league.
To a certain degree, this is not sustainable. Our defense will make mistakes, our attackers will miss chances. However, it seems like the team still has to click into gear. This was especially true against Brentford, Manchester City and Aston Villa where things didn’t click into place. It is an ominous thought on where this team would be when Lukaku gets more involved, and things start clicking further.
We have had 17 different scorers. I’m sure that’s some sort of record for this early in the season. The defense is scoring goals for fun. Major credit goes to Anthony Barry who has worked primarily on set pieces. In tight cagey games, like when Spurs were locked 0-0, a set piece goal is the difference between a win and a draw.
It’s been a good season so far, but Chelsea have a couple of gears to go up to. Considering we are top of the league with some tricky fixtures completed, the Norwich game can be used as a kickstart for other players like Havertz and Mount. As we approach the busy festive period, we will need the full depth of the squad with players like Ziyech and Pulisic returning from injuries. Lots to look forward from this amazing group of players and elite coaching staff.