Chelsea’s season so far

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.

In’s

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.

Figure 1: Lukaku against Arsenal (Courtesy Getty images)

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.

Figure 2: Loftus Cheek back at Chelsea (Courtesy Getty images)

Out’s

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.

Figure 3: Chelsea academy boy sporting Southampton’s colors (Courtesy SI)

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.

Figure 4: Chilwell popping up in the edge of the penalty box (Courtesy Yahoo Sports)

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.

Figure 5: Mendy ensuring another clean sheet (Courtesy Getty Images)

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.

Conclusion

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.

Romelu Lukaku and Chelsea FC–past, present, future

Chelsea FC have broken their transfer record to re-sign Romelu Lukaku from Inter Milan. Let’s go down memory lane to revisit his history with the club, define what he will bring in the coming season, and how his game can potentially evolve as he gets older

Past

Romelu Lukaku joined Chelsea from Anderlecht for £10m on August 2011 but he was the 5th striker in the squad. Chelsea had just signed Fernando Torres for a record breaking £50m six months ago, there was the talisman but ageing Didier Drogba, squad player Saloman Kalou and fellow youngster Daniel Sturridge. Lukaku was part of the Belgian revolution led by Michael Emenalo and joined around the same time as Kevin De Bruyne and a year earlier than the Hazard brothers. He was a huge fan of Drogba and the club.

Figure 1: Romelu Lukaku signs for Chelsea, Courstesy Getty Images

2011/12 was largely spent on the bench or with the reserves and wasn’t even in the Champions league squad of 25. Chelsea didn’t do too bad though winning the Champions league title though they came 6th in the league.

For the 2012/13 season Chelsea knew they were going to play a lot of games with their involvement in the Club World Cup in addition to the usual commitments. Drogba and Kalou left as well. However, Lukaku was sanctioned to leave on loan to West Brom. Chelsea only had two strikers in Torres and the untested Sturridge. The 25-man squad included Lucas Piazon (18), Nathan Ake (17), and Florent Malouda who were not expected to play. The club ended up playing more than 65 games that season.

Lukaku at that moment was not a complete striker. He had a weak right foot, could not run with the ball or take players on. He was primarily a poacher, getting into good positions and finishing off moves. He scored 17 goals which was more than all of Chelsea’s strikers.

Jose Mourinho returned to the club at the start of the 2013 season and there was lots of excitement. Lukaku was expected to stay and compete with Torres. He played in pre-season friendlies, and even the Super Cup against Bayern Munich where he missed the decisive penalty in the shootout. The club were chasing Wayne Rooney all summer and ended up with an ageing Samuel Etoo. Out of no where, the last day of the window Lukaku pushed for a loan to Everton which Mourinho granted.

Figure 2: Lukaku with Mourinho in 2013, Courtesy Getty Images

Chelsea ended trophyless that season. Mourinho made a comment after the 1st leg of the Quarter Final game with PSG about his non-existent forward line while Lukaku scored 15 goals in the league even though he was injured for a while.

2014 was supposed to be Lukaku’s year, right? All three of Chelsea’s forwards were let go. Torres loaned to AC Milan, Etoo released and Demba Ba sold to Besiktas. But no Lukaku. Chelsea recruited three new forwards. Diego Costa joined from Atletico Madrid for £32m, Drogba rejoined for free and Loic Remy was bought as a 3rd choice forward. Lukaku tired of going out on loan joined Everton on a permanent transfer for £28m.

In the following years, he further developed his game. He scored more regularly with both feet, ran better with the ball, included more assists in his game. He also had that famous goal against Chelsea in an FA Cup game where he dribbled past two players and lashed a powerful strike across the goal to dump his old club out of the competition.

Chelsea didn’t do too bad. Diego Costa led the front line along with Hazard to two titles in three years and a Carling cup. In hindsight, Chelsea got Diego Costa for Lukaku + £4m. The same Lukaku who had never scored a goal for the club.

There was a telling moment in the corridors of Goodison park three years later in 2017 though where Chelsea won 3-0 thanks to an amazing Pedro goal. Michael Emenalo and Lukaku were having a conversation at the end of the game. It was common knowledge that Diego Costa was agitating to leave and Lukaku had developed enough to potentially lead Chelsea to new heights.

Chelsea, Antonio Conte and Michael Emenalo courted Lukaku in the summer of 2017, and everything seemed done for a £75m move back to his former club. At the 11th hour though, Manchester United offered Everton more money and Rooney for the player. Paul Pogba and Lukaku were seen together at Los Angeles as he went AWOL on Chelsea and joined the Red Devils.

Chelsea bought Morata, then Giroud, then Higuain, then Tammy Abraham took over. Giroud and Tammy were relative successes but Chelsea who have always played with a traditional robust No.9 have missed something up front ever since Costa left. They ended up winning the 2021 Champions league final playing with mobile false forwards in Werner and Havertz.

Figure 3: Chelsea won the Champions league in 2021, Courtesy Getty Images

Lukaku scored goals at Manchester United but was never deemed a success there. He moved to Inter Milan where he took his all-round game to another level becoming a leader in the team leading them to their first Serie A in 10 years ending Juventus’ dominance.

Present

Welcome to 2021 when Chelsea fans salivating about Erling Haaland all summer got Romelu Lukaku. Chelsea have paid top dollar for him as well shattering their previous transfer record with Kepa. So, what can we expect from him this season?

Goals, goals, more goals and some assists. There is so much creative talent in the forward line of Chelsea and Lukaku will be finishing all of those moves. It doesn’t stop there though. His build up play has improved now, and he is going to help players like Werner, Pulisic, and Havertz score more as well.

He is the big center forward that Chelsea have craved but let’s not pigeonhole him into just that. Famously in 2018 against Brazil, he switched to a wider forward role helping Belgium win the quarter finals with De Bruyne playing false 9. In one specific moment, he ran past Fernandinho like he didn’t exist before assisting De Bruyne showing various facets to his game.

Figure 4: Lukaku against Brazil, Courtesy Getty images

The present Lukaku is a poacher. He can head in crosses from Chilwell and Reece James, play cute inter plays with the technically gifted forward players, and run the channels if Chelsea play on the counter against teams like Manchester City. Chelsea will be expected to contest for the title in 2021-2022 and Lukaku will be expected to score 20-30 goals.

Future

Lukaku is at the peak of his game but in two to three years age will start creeping up on him. He already has ten years of football in him, and his speed will reduce. He will not have any resale value and Chelsea are not buying him with the hope of selling him for more later.

Expect Lukaku’s game to adapt in a few years more akin to Olivier Giroud has during his time at Chelsea. The pace to run behind may go away, but the awareness in the box to get into the right positions, the strength to win headers and finally the ability to involve others will still be there. In the future, Lukaku may not be a 20-goal striker, but he can still be a 10-goal impact substitute who comes on against tiring defenses to get late goals.

It could all go down hill though. He could hide in big games as he is accused of doing, not score against the big teams or in the big occasions, miss big chances and be a liability in a year. With transfers, there is always that risk. It’s a risk Chelsea are willing to take though with the potential reward of getting the final piece of the Tuchel puzzle. Yes, Chelsea just won the Champions league but that’s despite not having a proper center forward.

Chelsea and Lukaku have a long history and have crossed paths many times. Here is to hope for a bright future as well. Welcome home Rom.