Add Aubameyang or stick with Havertz and Broja? The big question facing Tuchel and Boehly

And then there were two. After Timo Werner followed Romelu Lukaku out of the departure lounge at Heathrow Airport, Chelsea were left with two genuine options to lead the line next season – and even that might be generous. Kai Havertz comes into this season with an underwhelming 12 goals in his 57 Premier League appearances to date, and this term is joined by 20-year-old Albania International Armando Broja. Of the two, only Broja can claim to be an archetypal number 9, with Havertz’s strongest position a mystery to all, and questions are being raised about the German’s capabilities as a centre forward after an anonymous showing at Goodison Park to begin the 2022/23 season. So, can Chelsea realistically secure another season of Champions League football with a roster of centre forwards with a combined 18 goals in their fledgling Premier League careers, or do the Londoner’s need further additions?

Broja caught a lot of attention from fans of his parent club when he bagged the sixth league goal of his debut season (on loan at Southampton) against Spurs in February. The academy graduate had been one of the revelations of the season, and his physical performance against Manchester United in his next outing – notable for bullying Maguire with his strength and movement – only added to the hype. However, the rest of the campaign passed without a goal for the Slough born forward, with many Chelsea fans wondering whether the club would decide to cash in on a young asset following a promising breakout season in order to help fund another summer spending spree. However, interest from West Ham and Everton never materialised into a bid and so the youngster was given his big break: starting a season for Chelsea with a realistic expectation of bagging 1500 or more minutes of competitive football.

Havertz’s fine form mid-season fizzled out, leaving fans questioning his ability to lead the line. Photo credit: Premier League

Kai Havertz is in many ways the opposite of Broja. The German was bought in for a then club record fee, as opposed to being nurtured in Cobham from an early age, he was slight and technical, not physical and fast and he had the biggest clubs in Europe jostling for his signature when he touched down in London. Landing Havertz was seen as a major coup – many wondering if pandemic affected finances had enabled Chelsea to beat off the likes of Bayern Munich and Real Madrid to his signature – however Havertz has never really settled. A long-COVID affected first season finished in the most memorable fashion possible: scoring the winning goal in a Champions League final. Whilst that strike has written his name into the club’s history, the former Bayer Leverkusen man has yet to justify his fee. 5 goals in a 5-game stretch in the league in March and April seemed to be a turning point for Havertz, however six blanks and a series of costly misses against the likes of Manchester United and Everton to cap off the campaign left an underwhelming feeling lingering.

The departure of Timo Werner could result in this becoming a make-or-break campaign for his compatriot. No longer will Werner’s hapless finishing take the majority of the headlines, with the spotlight now shining on the under-performing Havertz. Ever since breaking through as the youngest ever debutant in Bundesliga history, Havertz’s talent has been abundantly clear. However, he is yet to prove to the Stamford Bridge faithful that he has what it takes to cut it as a centre forward at the top level. His frustrating propensity to drift through games without making any noticeable impact has also become a bone of contention with fans. Now the undisputed starting number 9 following Lukaku’s departure, it is up to Havertz to take his chance.

Early whispers suggested that Raheem Sterling could fill in as a false nine in Tuchel’s favoured 3-4-2-1 system, flanked by Mason Mount and Havertz. The season opener seemed to provide weight to this argument, as first Havertz and then substitute Broja often drifted left to create space for Sterling in the middle. While Sterling threatened for the first hour of play, and had a goal ruled out as well as a goal-bound effort brilliantly blocked, Havertz was anonymous. Although his movement may have assisted Sterling, it was not a style of performance fitting his enormous potential and price tag. His languid style is often mistaken for a lack of passion but here he did himself no favours with a mere 23 passes attempted the lowest of any of Chelsea’s outfield starters, illustrating his struggles at getting a foothold in proceedings. His most notable moment was a weak header into Pickford’s gloves from a first-half freekick. Broja was a bundle of energy when he came on, but bar one lovely turn he was unable to really affect the game, often left alone out on the left-hand flank.

The captures of Sterling and Koulibaly point to a win-now strategy being employed by Boehly and co. Photo credit: Football.london

All of these questions over the two youngsters prompt the question: are they good enough centre forward options to secure a top-four berth? The answer to this is hard to ascertain currently. Although neither has had a long career, both seem to score goals in spurts before going on a drought and Havertz famously is unable to hit top-form until after Christmas.

However, what is certain is that early investment from Boehly and co. suggests that Chelsea are building a side to be successful right now. The purchases of 27-year-old Sterling and 31-year-old Koulibaly are two examples of large sums being spent on players in their primes. Havertz and Broja could potentially need another season or two to acclimatise to the demands of leading the line for a top-6 side in the league, and even then they might not be of a title-winning level (think of the influence Drogba and Costa had on successful Blue’s sides of old). Sterling and Koulibaly are two extremely ambitious players who will have been promised a push for silverware from day-one, and so it is likely that the new ownership group will look to supplement the youthful attack with a sure-fire goal scorer at centre forward.

Can Broja fire Chelsea to a top-four finish? Photo credit: Chelsea News

Herein lies another problem: there is a startling lack of talent on the market in this position. Clubs are having to take risks to secure players in the number 9 role. Think of West Ham’s £30.5 million purchase of Gianluca Scamacca. The Italian was initially wanted by top sides including PSG, however he seemed to be running extremely hot in Serie A, scoring his 16 league goals from an expected goals (xG) rating of 11.13. West Ham were willing to bet on the 6’5 striker carrying on his lethal finishing touch in a new, faster-paced league, but had to part with a considerable chunk of change to secure their man. Tried-and-trusted marksmen are in such short supply that Barcelona plunged themselves into further financial peril with the €45 million acquisition of soon-to-be 34-year-old Robert Lewandowski.

This all suggests that Chelsea find themselves looking for a proven scorer at just the wrong time. Two names heavily linked have been out of favour Barca duo; Memphis Depay and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. These two names understandably won’t have Chelsea fans salivating the way Lukaku and Erling Haaland did last summer. The former is a Premier League flop who has always been injury-prone and the latter captained hated London rivals Arsenal, and is 33 years old, a player very much entering his twilight years. Juventus have moved for Depay in the past day, leaving just Aubameyang as a rumoured target for Chelsea.

Boehly and Tuchel face a busy end to the summer window. Photo credit: Football.london

Gabonese forward Aubameyang actually hit the floor running in La Liga last season. Joining in January – after being sounded out as a disruptive presence in a young and impressionable Arsenal dressing room – he hit 11 goals and laid on an assist in just 17 league appearances, working out as a very impressive 91 minutes per goal contribution. This compares favourably to Chelsea’s current options: Havertz contributing a goal every 165 minutes of league action last term, Broja every 330 minutes. Interestingly, a lot of Aubameyang’s best work comes from drifting towards the left-hand flank, potentially dove-tailing nicely with Sterling in Tuchel’s system. Although the years will begin to catch up with him, much like Jamie Vardy, Aubameyang has maintained his blistering pace into his thirties, which will be another weapon for Chelsea as well as replacing a loss in explosive speed in the squad following the sale of Werner.

Although this paints a rosy picture of what Aubameyang could bring to Chelsea, it is worth pointing out the glaring drawbacks to such a deal. Disciplinary actions have plagued the forward’s career, which could cause issues in a youthful squad where he will be one of the senior heads. Chelsea also traditionally avoid signing players with no sell-on value and although that approach seems to have been eschewed with Sterling and Koulibaly, signing a 33-year-old forward with a patchy injury record would definitely be a risk. Large wages may also be an issue, with contract talks already beginning with Mount, Reece James and Edouard Mendy, and the new board won’t want to risk alienating these players waiting to sign on the dotted line.

Tuchel has known Aubameyang since his Dortmund days and got more out of him than any other manager in his career to date; impressively helping him to the top-scorer award in Germany ahead of the previously unstoppable Lewandowski in 2016/17. The German manager is playing a big part in Boehly’s recruitment drive and has previously stated multiple times that the focus is on winning now rather than building for the future (hence his stance on Colwill departing on loan). The pair of them will have to decide what is best for Chelsea, whether that means compromising long-term success for the short-term or not. In Havertz and Broja, Tuchel has two of the most talented forwards in England. However, Havertz may not be suited to a centre forward role and might benefit from dropping into a deeper role, whilst Broja needs a season or two of regular playing time before he can be viewed as a title-winning forward. Bringing in a win-now replacement in Aubameyang may hinder the development of the aforementioned pair, and there is no guarantee that it will end in success. But these are the tough decisions that Boehly will have to get used to if he is to fill the hefty boots of his predecessor.

By Daniel New

Koulibaly: Chelsea and their shifting age policy

Chelsea don’t give out long-term contracts to players over the age of 30. At least that’s what we thought. With Roman Abramovich’s 19-year reign coming to an abrupt halt this summer, it seems that their may be a shift in transfer policy under the stewardship of the Boehly-Clearlake consortium.

The Londoner’s were once famous for a lack of sentimentality. Club legends John Terry and Frank Lampard were left waiting every season to find out whether their stay at Stamford Bridge would be extended by a year. Ashley Cole and David Luiz were disposed of in blunt fashion as their desire for long term deals could not be satisfied by the club. In fact, over the entirety of the Abramovich-era, only one outfielder seemed to break the one-year-contract-to-over-30s rule: Willian. The Brazilian finished the COVID-hit 2019/20 season in fine form, helping drag the Blues to a top-4 berth. His efforts were rewarded by a 2-year contract extension being placed on the table, only for Arsenal to tempt Willian away with the promise of an extra year on top of that…we all know how that turned out.

Koulibaly soaking in the Las Vegas sights after penning a 4-year-deal at Chelsea. Photo Credit: Football Italia

All of this brings Koulibaly’s rumoured 4-year contract into context. It could be deemed a risky move by new ownership, handing out lucrative deals to players the wrong side of 30 is widely considered dangerous. Years of clocking up 40+ games leads to player’s being more effected by little knocks as well as losing a yard of pace. However, with captain Azpilicueta potentially joining Rudiger and Christensen in the departures lounge at Heathrow this summer, it was important for the new owners to act decisively to shore up a thinning back-line. Many fans would have preferred it if the Senegalese centre back arrived when he was perennially linked with the Blues in the late-2010s (something the man himself commented on when arriving at his new club), however this is a story of better late than never. With a full pre-season ahead to get used to the demands of Tuchel’s new system, the £31 million signing could prove to be astute come the end of the season.

Koulibaly will bring experience, leadership and quality to Chelsea’s backline. The Senegalese defender is not an aggressive defender with insane tackles and interception numbers (averaging a combined 2.5 per 90 minutes of league action since 2020/21) but a high-level reader of the game in the ilk of Virgil Van Dijk (1.4 tackles and interceptions a game last term). The two are both 31 year of age and will both play a huge part in their respective side’s title aspirations next season, so long as they can both stay fit and healthy.

A glance at Koulibaly’s injury record could be a cause of concern for overly cautious Chelsea fans. The centre back missed a combined 19 league games through 6 separate muscles issues over the previous 3 seasons. The worry might be that with age these issue will only get worse, with each knock keeping him on the side-lines for a longer period than before. However, there is a perfect case study to quench any injury fears over Koulibaly in Thiago Silva. The timeless Brazilian himself missed 20 league games through 5 separate ailments between the ages of 28 and 31 (2013-2016). Since arriving at Stamford Bridge, however, the fan favourite has sat out of only 8 league matches (just 1 last season), despite edging closer to 40 years of age. The mixture of careful game management and world-class injury prevention staff have enabled Silva to play on at an incredibly high-level despite being previously labelled an injury-prone player. There is therefore reason for optimism when it comes to Koulibaly and his future at the club.

Koulibaly is set to wear the number 26 shirt during preseason, could he be a John Terry like figure for the Blues? Photo Credit: goal.com

There are a couple of other factors working in Koulibaly’s favour when it comes to making a seamless transition to life in England. The African Cup of Nations Champion is confident speaking both English and French, which will help him communicate with a backline comprising of speakers of both the former (Chalobah, James, Chilwell) and latter (Mendy, Silva, Azpilicueta). He also has prior experience playing alongside Jorginho at Napoli, where the two were close, a relationship which could be vital when swiftly playing out of the back from centre back to tempo-setting holding midfielder – a vital part of Tuchel’s system.

Finally, this move could be looked back on as an exception not the rule in ten years’ time. Tuchel is under immediate pressure from new owners to demonstrate that he can close the gap on the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool. Chelsea’s demand for centre backs is huge and bringing in a world class defender for only £31 million who also offers the leadership – as captain of his national team – to offset that lost by the potential departure of Azpilicueta is a quick fix to what was becoming a huge issue. Now another one or two centre backs look set to follow Koulibaly through the door at Stamford Bridge, before potentially a new number 9 to replace the outgoing Lukaku. It is one thing purchasing a 31-year-old defender in a back three system which, as proved by Thiago Silva, does not require blistering pace to function. It is a whole other ball game to stock Tuchel’s midfield and attack with ageing talent, such as Ronaldo or Lewandowski, who would struggle to adapt to the aggressive counter-pressing demands of the system, the same issue that Lukaku was unable to solve last season.

Tuchel, who has a large part to play in recruitment until a director of football is found, will feel that the qualities that Koulibaly brings to West London outweigh the negatives of his age and injury record. For the first time in decades, Chelsea are putting their faith fully in a manager, in the style of Liverpool and Manchester City with Klopp and Guardiola respectively, believing this to be their best option at closing the gap on these two elite sides. The German manager has made a gamble in straying from the buying young players with huge sell-on potential model (Havertz, Pulisic, Hazard etc.) of the Abramovich era and now needs the results to justify him doing so. If all goes to plan, maybe seeing veterans of the game pitching up at Stamford Bridge on sizeable contracts may not be so rare in the future. Until then it’s up to Koulibaly to impress and show that age really is just a number.

Daniel New

Ecstasy to Agony in Madrid – but Blues can be Prouder than Ever

Football, bloody hell.

These were the thoughts of legendary Manchester United custodian Alex Ferguson, following his side’s dramatic injury time triumph over Bayern Munich in the 1999 European Cup final. The same sentiment could be used to describe Chelsea’s trip to Madrid last night, but perhaps from a place of slightly less jubilation.

It’s not often that a side comes to the home of the 13-time European Cup winners and comprehensively outplay them, but that is exactly what Chelsea managed to do. Aiming to maintain their 100% record against Real Madrid in knockout ties, the Blues were 11 minutes from securing the most unlikely of comebacks. It seemed for all the world that London’s finest had booked their place in the semi-finals of Europe’s elite competition when Timo Werner calmly slotted home late on – something in itself that seemed a minor miracle. We all know what happened next: the timeless Modric curling a peach of a ball into the box with his other-worldly right boot, which was dutifully finished by the young Rodrygo, followed by a stooping Benzema header in extra time to consign Chelsea to a gut-wrenching exit. This game went beyond score lines and stats though, and in these most uncertain of times for the Blues, this was a reminder of exactly what it is to be a part of the Chelsea family.

The first half went exactly to plan for Tuchel’s charges. Back in a more familiar 3-4-3 formation following the ill-advised switch to a back four for the Brentford game and parts of the first leg of this quarter-final tie, there were a couple of surprising inclusions for Chelsea. Timo Werner kept his place on the left side of the front line following his impressive performance against Southampton at the weekend, and Ruben Loftus-Cheek did the same, putting in an incredible shift at right wing-back, with Reece James monstrous yet again in his role as the right-sided centre back in a back three. The Blues choked the home side with their aggressive pressing patterns, so often forcing the ball back to Courtois, who in turn would hurriedly clear and present possession back to the away side. It took only until the 15th minute for Chelsea to capitalise on their over-whelming dominance. Following good build-up play by Kovacic and Loftus-Cheek, the ball fortuitously dropped to Mount off Werner’s thigh. The Cobham academy graduate needed no second invitation, exquisitely bending a bouncing ball first-time past the helpless dive of Courtois. It was the perfect start.

Tuchel got his tactics spot on as his side dominated throughout. Photo credit: The Telegraph

Chelsea continued to dominate proceedings without carving too many clear-cut chances for themselves, as the Londoner’s exited the pitch for half-time with their aggregate deficit halved to just the one goal. The second period got off to the perfect start with a towering Rudiger header from a delightful Mount corner evening the scores. The equaliser temporarily sparked Madrid into life, satisfying the baying home crowd with a couple of opportunities, first for Benzema then for Kroos from a free-kick. However, it looked as though Chelsea had completed a memorable comeback when flying left wing-back Marcos Alonso rocketed a dropping ball into the top right of Courtois’ goal with his weaker right foot, only for VAR to chalk off the effort due to the tiniest contact between ball and the Spaniard’s tucked-in hand. 5 minutes later it looked like that decision could have haunted Chelsea as Benzema had yet another free header, however this time the 2022 Balon d’Or favourite could only guide his effort onto Mendy’s upright.

Cut to the 75th minute and the most unlikely of heroes for Chelsea. A perfectly weighted through-ball from the imperious Kovacic (96 passes at a 96% accuracy to go with his two darting dribbles) slipped Timo Werner past Casemiro and Carvajal. Now to the tricky part. The German is infamous for slapping any chance he gets wide of the mark, or for being offside, or a combination of the two. However, on the grandest of occasions he was able to maintain the clarity of thought to cut past a sliding Casemiro, and then a well-placed David Alaba, before firing beyond Courtois. It looked as though the much-maligned forward had finally come good with a winner, following his impressive brace at the weekend. Much like the rest of the German’s Chelsea career however, upset was soon to follow. Five minutes later Modric picked out the perfect pass and that was the beginning of the end for an inspired Chelsea. Substitute Pulisic spurned two huge opportunities from perfect knockdowns from teammates and so this epic was to go to an additional half an hour of extra time.

Werner stepped up on the biggest occasion with a calmly-taken goal. Photo credit: The Telegraph

96 minutes in, Chelsea had made only one change (Pulisic for Werner) and the fatigue from battling for every ball for an hour and a half was beginning to set in. Vinicius Junior was away on the left-hand side, possibly the only time he had been free of a relentless Reece James since the early minutes of the game. The Brazilian once again demonstrated his almost telepathic relationship with Benzema, hanging a perfect ball into the box for the French forward to convert, with Rudiger slipping at the vital moment. The game was far from over. Havertz had bustled with industry and intensity from the very first whistle, and almost caught out former Chelsea man Courtois (which would have delighted his numerous detractors in the fan-base), sprinting and straining to block what he thought would be an up-field punt from the goalkeeper following a heavy touch. However, the Belgian proved his class with a calm Cruyff turn to get himself out of what could have been a very high-profile blunder. Havertz had a much better chance to earn his side a deserved equaliser just minutes later, failing to bury a free header from a magnificent Reece James delivery from the right flank. Finally, it was Jorginho’s turn to snatch at a guild-edged chance at the death, failing to finish a ball from Ziyech from all of ten yards out and under little pressure. The final whistle went, with La Liga leaders Real Madrid clinching a place in the semi-finals.

However, as I wrote at the start of this article: this game was about so much more than the result – despite the fact that the Blues did actually win this match 3-1 after 90 minutes! The perfect story to sum up this game was embodied by Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Forever the nearly-man, talked up by a seemingly endless procession of Chelsea managers as the future of their midfield (despite never being given a consistent run outside of the Europa League), the Englishman put in an incredible performance, little over 12 months since being relegated as part of a poor Fulham side – offering a single goal contribution over his season there. Throw in the horrific ACL injury sustained in a charity match at the end of his first season of regular minutes at Chelsea, which forced him to miss out on a Europa League final as well as the academy revolution of the Frank Lampard era, it looked as though the Englishman was finished at Stamford Bridge, another sad story of wasted potential at the London side. However, given a run of games over winter following injuries to Kovacic and Jorginho, Ruben grew into his role as a deep-lying playmaker and excelled there for a month. His resultant downturn in form coincided with the general December malaise at the club and gametime has been hard to come by since. But following a majestic performance in an unusual right wing-back position on the South Coast on Saturday, Tuchel put his faith in him to thrive in the most intimidating of atmospheres. Seemingly assured by the immense defensive presence of Reece James on his inside, Loftus-Cheek ruled the right-flank with 4 crosses and 2 key passes, as well as playing a key part in Chelsea’s first goal and performing to a high level throughout both on and off the ball, his driving runs from deep a reminder of the dynamic presence he can be.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek was a dynamic presence down Chelsea’s right. Photo credit: football.london

 Mason Mount again silenced his doubters, with his 23rd and 24th goal contributions of the season (far and away the side’s most prolific player in this regard). The tireless midfielder put in a pressing performance for the ages, whilst finding the time to lay on a match-high 4 key passes and continued his impressive record against Spain’s most successful side, following on from his semi-final goal at the Bridge against the same opposition last year – so much for flat track bully! Reece James completed the triumvirate of academy players starting on such a huge stage. Following a yellow card for a professional foul on Vinicius Junior after getting beaten far too easily, the 22-year-old prevented the in-form winger from creating anything of note until extra time. This was summed up by his astonishing 8 tackles, three more than the next best on the pitch. Once again the Cobham graduate proved his world-class ability at right centre back, as well as bombing forwards to provide precise crosses and a thunderbolt effort which led to the corner from which Rudiger bagged Chelsea’s second.

Finally, there were a couple of stories of redemption on an extraordinary night for Chelsea. Coming into April it seemed as though Timo Werner’s head was fixed solely on his new club (thought to be Borussia Dortmund), as he shirked challenges all over the field and failed to impress during a six-month league goal-drought. However, the German seemed a man reborn following his confidence boosting double against the Saints, and he made threatening runs all night. Loftus-Cheek failed to release Werner on a couple of occasions, but when he was finally given his chance by Kovacic, he took it with both hands, briefly becoming a Chelsea cult-hero. There could yet be time for Werner to save his Chelsea career! Marcos Alonso is another potential summer departure for the Blues, following many questions over his pace and defensive abilities. The Spaniard was even dropped from his left wing-back berth for countryman Azpilicueta for the first leg against Madrid, despite it being the captain’s weaker flank. Alonso was back with a point to prove, and on top of his harshly disallowed goal he was a calming figure for the away side throughout. His joint match-leading 4 key passes illustrated his offensive contribution, as well as his 9 crosses, and he was switched on defensively, helping Rudiger shore up the left flank and preventing Carvajal and Llorente overloading that side.

If there are any Chelsea fans out there feeling awful today I can more than understand why: we were 11 minutes from a well-deserved Champions League semi-final spot and who knows what could have happened from there. But hopefully with a bit of perspective we can all see a bright future for Chelsea, regardless of who takes over. In Thomas Tuchel we have a tactical genius who once again proved he is one of the best coaches in the world. We have a young and hungry squad: Chilwell, Mount, Havertz, Chalobah, James and Hudson-Odoi are all 25 and under. And on top of these crucial factors, we have an innate fighting spirit and a passionate fanbase who will stick by the side through thick and thin.

The away fans at the Santiago Bernabeu put it best as they serenaded their heroes after the full-time whistle: ‘Champions of Europe, we’ll sing that ‘till May’.

One more thing to add: imagine not being Chelsea!

By Daniel New

Chelsea 2-1 Bournemouth Match Review:

Preseason gives eager fans around the world chance to see talent – both young and old – given the rare opportunity to impress before the campaign gets underway. With the European Championships and Copa America delaying the return of the bulk of Chelsea’s regular playing squad (17 players were present at these competitions: the most of any European club!), fans would be forgiven for struggling to recognise a few faces!

The line-up featured the unusual midfield pivot of Danny Drinkwater and Connor Gallagher, ahead of a back three of Dujon Sterling, Lewis Baker (now 26 years old!) and Malang Sarr (back from a season-long loan at Porto). The more familiar faces of Callum Hudson-Odoi, Hakim Ziyech, Christian Pulisic, Kepa Arrizabalaga, Marcos Alonso and – to the excitement of this writer – Tammy Abraham also appeared from the start. This mix of established international stars, youngsters trying to force their way into Thomas Tuchel’s thinking and Danny Drinkwater got off to an excellent start, dominating their Championship opponents in the first half.

As early on as the seventh minute Hudson-Odoi was able to confirm that he was – as speculated in training – back to his very best, playing a beautiful ball over the top for Pulisic, who would have been in on goal were it not for a poor touch. As the game wore on we were given a glimpse of the ball of energy that is Connor Gallagher, as he made a lovely sliding interception as well as an important, bustling challenge on the edge of his own box. Marcos Alonso was also twice involved in the game’s early incidents: first making a crucial sliding block to deny former Blue Dominic Solanke when through on goal, then blasting a free kick into the wall from his favoured position.

Plenty of fringe players were hoping to impress the new German manager of the year. Photo credit: football.london

The first half featured a wide-ranging display of the often forgotten about Danny Drinkwater’s passing ability, as the £40 million flop sprayed 40 yard cross field balls at will, one of which found Hudson-Odoi who collected brilliantly and beat his man before finding Abraham with a beautiful cut-back. Abraham’s finish, however, was straight at the keeper. Hudson-Odoi was a continual thorn in Bournemouth’s side as he later linked up well with Ziyech as the Moroccan picked out an excellent Abraham run in behind, with the England international’s tame shot saved. Shortly after this Ziyech found Abraham’s head with a lovely, clipped ball from the right but the effort was just wide. This capped an excellent first half for the Blues, with the intensity of pressing and the sharp linkup between attackers a real positive, as well as the industry and distribution of Sarr and Baker standing out.

The second half naturally brought with it a raft of changes as Tuchel gave everyone a chance to impress. Early on in the half Gallagher was sloppy in possession and was punished by David Brooks, who tackled him and fired his shot wide as the intimidating presence of substitute Eduoard Mendy bore down on him. Ross Barkley and Ruben Loftus-Cheek – two international midfielders desperate to regain their places in this Chelsea side – shone after coming on, full of sharp turns (from the former) and surging runs forwards (from the latter) as the Blues commanded the middle of the park.

Chelsea’s dominance could not stop them falling behind in the 66th minute however, as Zappacosta was caught sleeping by a sharp cutback which was converted by the head of Marcondes. There had been warning signs: two corners that were not dealt with as well as a phenomenal Mendy save, and now Chelsea had work to do. However, just six minutes later Baba-Rahman galloped down the left flank, and despite losing possession after a heavy touch he was able to win the ball back and exchange passes with Loftus-Cheek before whipping in a delightful cross which Broja had time to chest down and finish into the roof of the net. This was an exciting sight for Chelsea fans keen to see their youngsters progress and following his debut senior season – where he netted a fantastic 10 goals from 21 starts in the Eredivisie for Vitesse Arnhem – there is optimism amongst some that the Albanian could be an option up front next season.

Broja lit up the second half with his energetic pressing and was rewarded with a well-taken goal. Photo credit: We Ain’t Got No History

Four minutes after Broja levelled it was the turn of another exciting, young Chelsea number 9 to score what proved to be the winner. Ike Ugbo met Barkley’s excellent in-swinging corner at the front post to seal a brilliant preseason win for the Blues. Ugbo has attracted a wide range of suitors after his amazing stint at Cercle Bruges last season, where he netted 16 times in 32 starts in Belgium’s top-flight. During a tricky time for the academy, it was fitting that two young stars who have risen through the ranks at Cobham were the scorers today and hopefully they are both given a chance by their parent club to shine on a bigger stage.

There was a lot to take away from this game. Positives included Abraham’s intelligent movement despite a lack of gametime since the turn of the year, Loftus-Cheek’s sharpness following a difficult spell at Fulham and the link-up between Ziyech and Hudson-Odoi down Chelsea’s right. The team pressed excellently – as demonstrated in the 75th minute as Broja showed his incredible speed to shut down the Bournemouth keeper and nearly deflect his long ball into the back of his own net – and were well organised (except from set pieces!) throughout.

It is difficult to draw anything from preseason games – especially ones where half of the squad are absent – but the players on the fringes of the first team performed brilliantly and players with a point to prove really stepped up. Next up: Arsenal….

Written by Daniel New

Giroud: Farewell to a Legend

When Olivier Giroud inevitably calls time on his glorious three-and-a-half-year spell at Chelsea this summer, he will do so as a club legend. Having signed in January 2018 as part of the bizarre three-way striker swap that saw Arsenal break the bank for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Borussia Dortmund compensated with the loan signing of Michy Batshuayi, Giroud had to win over a sceptical fanbase. It was a move that did little to inspire Chelsea fans, who were beginning to worry about a lack of end-product from big money summer signing Alvaro Morata, whom after a red-hot start had netted just once in his last 6 appearances before Giroud had arrived and succumbed to two different injuries. His Arsenal connection and age (he was already 31) did nothing to ease doubts. However, the Frenchman went on to become the Blues’ top scorer in successful Champions League and Europa League campaigns in 2020/21 and 2018/19 respectively, as well as being a crucial component to the sides’ 2018 FA Cup win and strong finish to the 2019/20 season post-lockdown. Scorer of goals you and I could only dream of bagging, a dedicated servant who stayed even when more gametime was available elsewhere, we should always remain indebted to one of the league’s most underrated strikers.

A beautiful photo for all Chelsea fans: Giroud has passed on his experience to the youngsters. Photo credit: A Stamford Bridge Too Far

Looking at Giroud’s Chelsea career from the viewpoint of cold, hard numbers, the Frenchman netted 17 times from just 33 starts in the league (one every 187 minutes) and an astonishing 17 goals from only 15 starts in Europe – an absurd record of a goal every 86 minutes! –  for the Blues. His sensational European goalscoring record actually makes him the club’s third top scorer in continental competitions of all time behind only the mythical duo of Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard. However, there is so much more to Giroud and his legend than just goalscoring figures and there are many more reasons that he will stay in the hearts and minds of Chelsea fans for a very long time.

Giroud has now won more-or-less everything there is to win: a World Cup with France, the continental club double and a domestic cup with Chelsea as well as one of the most unexpected Ligue 1 triumphs ever with Montpellier which prompted his move to Arsenal in 2012. As well as being a prolific winner he has also made a name for himself as the man who scores crucial goals for his side (very much in the ilk of Drogba). The Frenchman has netted in a Europa league final, secured the Blue’s a place in the FA Cup final in 2018 with his incredible dribble and poked finish against Southampton and bagged an incredible bicycle kick to break the deadlock in a tight last-16 away leg against Atletico Madrid this season. The period that will surely pop to mind when Chelsea fans reminisce about the bearded genius is his remarkable form post-lockdown last season which lead to Chelsea securing Champions League football this year (and we all know how that turned out!). He scored 6 goals in 8 starts post-lockdown, with the Blues losing feebly against West Ham and Sheffield United on the only occasions that he did not begin the game on the field.

Giroud’s stunning bicycle kick against Atletico Madrid will long live in the memory of Chelsea fans. Photo credit: ESPN

Stop-start would be a good way to describe Giroud’s time in West London. The Frenchman has often been left on the bench behind Tammy Abraham or sometime even left out of the squad entirely due to the presence of Michy Batshuayi and yet when called upon he has always delivered. To keep that match sharpness and concentration despite missing months of football at a time is an incredible asset that Giroud has honed (beginning with his time at the Emirates) but even more impressive still is his temperament. There are not many World Cup winners who would take being deputy to a 22-year-old with limited game time well (let alone when they are the second top scorer ever for the French national team) but that is exactly what Giroud did. Instead of causing drama and angling for a move away to a club where he would get more gametime and earn a last big contract, Giroud stayed and helped the youngsters – including his direct competition in Tammy Abraham – in training, with his wealth of experience. Despite dragging Chelsea to a top 4 finish last season Giroud returned to the familiar surroundings of the bench at the start of this campaign as Timo Werner became additional competition for a starting berth up front. However, Giroud did what he does best, waiting patiently for his opportunity to shine, and when it came he took it: 4 goals in a single game against Sevilla, the winner in a crunch tie with Rennes and the aforementioned stunning bicycle kick in Bucharest.

The bearded Frenchman was the Blues top scorer as they clinched a historic second European Cup. Photo credit: We Ain’t Got No History

The Frenchman will leave a cult hero thanks to the many crucial moments he has starred in as well as the memories he has provided. Who could forget the famous ‘thankyou Arsenal’ message on an Instagram livestream after he netted the opener against his former club in the Europa League final? There is nothing better than beating your rivals in a cup final with a goal from their former striker! Then there are the poetic finishes: the rifled shot against Spurs, the turn and finish against Villa and the dink against Sevilla. And that bicycle kick – who could forget that bicycle kick? If you ever get a free 10 minutes, do yourself a favour and watch a compilation of the Frenchman’s best moments: he really is a beautiful footballer (and man!) and he will be sorely missed.

To Olivier Giroud: thank you for everything and we wish you the best of luck in Italy, fans of Milan are in for a treat!

Written by Daniel New

Sam Kerr: The perfect example for struggling Werner to follow

A big money signing brought to Stamford Bridge from foreign shores experiencing a nightmare period in front of goal – heard that one before? Arriving at Chelsea in November 2019 with huge expectations to go with her huge contract (believed to be worth around $600,000 per year, one of the most lucrative deals in Women’s football), Kerr appeared to be a shadow of her former self. She only appeared 4 times in the curtailed 2019/20 Women’s Super League season and netted just once. While this seems a reasonable return for a new signing feeling her way into new surroundings, that solitary goal came from an expected goals (a metric which measures the quality of a shot based on several variables such as assist type, shot angle and distance from goal) tally of 3.3.

This early malaise threatened to ruin the Australian’s second season in England too, but having hit a rich vein of form, Kerr is now the league’s leading scorer and is fundamental to Chelsea’s chances of success both domestically and in Europe. With fans searching for a reason to be optimistic following Werner’s early woes in front of goal, they need look no further than Kingsmeadow Stadium, home of Chelsea Women’s team and Sam Kerr.

Timo Werner was bought for a fee in the region of £54 million last summer, arriving with a huge reputation for scoring goals to uphold. The German international struck a stunning 28 goals in the Bundesliga during the 2019/20 campaign for RB Leipzig, second only to the imperious Robert Lewandowski in the league scoring charts. He also added 8 assists to that tally, showing an impressive creative spark. However, he has found the net only 5 times across over 2000 minutes of league action for the Blues, averaging a goal every 428 minutes (nearly a strike every 5 games). That is hardly a desirable goal tally for a central midfielder in modern football let alone a striker. One of the consistent issues surrounding Werner’s performances is the confusion over where his strongest position is, as he has moved between centre forward, a winger on both flanks and a left sided attacking midfielder. However, the purpose of this article is to focus on his finishing and how it can be improved so we will set aside the raging row over where to play the misfiring German for now. It is also worth noting that the German has clocked up an impressive 11.16 expected goals in 29 league appearances, the 11th best figure in the league. This implies that Werner is consistently getting into high quality shooting positions, and when he eventually regains his confidence and composure in front of goal, his goals tally should rocket.

After a difficult start for Kerr in 2019/20, she finally got her chance to regain some form after the women’s game took a 6-month break during the early stages of the pandemic. The 2020/21 season opener came in the form of the Community shield between the Blues and fierce rivals Manchester City, winners of the WSL and the FA Cup the previous season respectively. It would prove a nightmare return to action for Kerr, however, as she contrived to fluff no fewer than 4 gilt-edged chances – sitters even!

The first graphic shows the Australian through one-on-one with Manchester City stopper Ellie Roebuck, following an intelligent run between City’s two centre backs to latch on to a perfectly weighted through ball by Ji So-Yun. With just the keeper to beat, Kerr’s finishing lets her down as she attempts to take the shot on her stronger right foot under pressure from centre back and keeper and sends the ball narrowly wide.

Kerr misses a brilliant one-on-one chance against Man City. Photo Credit: BBC Sport YouTube channel

The second graphic shows Kerr in oceans of space following a deflected Ji free kick, but with so much time to think of where to place the ball, she eventually screws her header wide of the right-hand post – when missing looked harder than scoring! The 27 year-old showed natural predatory instincts to get into such a brilliant goalscoring position in the first place, however.

With bags of space and time, Kerr still manages to head wide. Photo credit: BBC Sport Youtube Channel

Next up is arguably the pick of the bunch. Kerr shows impressive pace to keep up with Fran Kirby on the break and is rewarded with a fine ball on a plate for her to finish. This time going with her left foot, Kerr scrapes the upper surface of the ball, sending it rolling slowly wide of the net.

Perhaps the worst miss of the lot, Kerr hits Kirby’s cut-back wide. Photo credit: BBC Sport Youtube Channel

Finally, just before being put out of her misery by manager Emma Hayes (being substituted off shortly after) Kerr snatches at yet another one-on-one with Roebuck. Not only was it a disappointing effort, but she ignored Kirby in a much better goalscoring position and yet failed to play a simple pass across goal, instead going for glory herself.

Should Kerr have squared to Kirby instead of going for glory here? Photo credit: BBC Sport YouTube Channel

Ironically, Kerr was saved by centre back Milly Bright, who showed the striker how it’s done, netting a screamer from all of 30 yards out as Chelsea went on to win the game 2-0 and secure the season’s first piece of silverware!

Fortunes quickly turned for Kerr, as she found the net in the very next game – the league’s season opener – against Manchester United in a 1-1 draw, and she hasn’t looked back since. She has netted a phenomenal 17 goals to go with her 5 assists from just 19 appearances: that works out as 1.19 goals per 90 minutes in the league! She has also been lethal in the Champions League, netting in both legs against German champions Wolfsburg in the quarter finals as well as against Benfica in the last 32. The Australian has struck up an almost telepathic relationship with Pernille Harder and Fran Kirby, as they form arguably the deadliest front three in women’s football.

One goal that emphasises Kerr’s rise in confidence and incredible centre forward’s play was her strike to seal the Blues’ progress to the semi finals of the Champions League. Back to goal, Kerr neatly controls Sophie Ingle’s cross, whilst using her physicality to lean into her marker and ease her away, creating the few inches of room she needed to punish the German side.

Kerr shows off her hold up play. Photo credit: BT Sport YouTube Channel

Using the space she has created, Kerr takes one touch to get away from her marker, before taking another to steady herself before her shot, finding herself sandwiched by 3 opposition defenders.

Kerr darts between Wolfsburg defenders. Photo credit: BT Sport YouTube Channel

Kerr is unable to keep her balance as she pulls the trigger with her right foot, tilting dangerously close to the floor. That doesn’t stop her from firing a brilliant shot inside the keeper’s near post.

Kerr somehow manages to fire home under pressure from 3 defenders. Photo credit: BT Sport YouTube Channel

In the space of four touches Kerr reminded the world that she is a truly elite forward. First she displayed her hold up play and physicality, then the speed of thought and foot to dart between defenders, before the composure and self-belief to finish from an unsteady position. Kerr had turned her Chelsea career around thanks to the patience and belief of coach Emma Hayes and has marked herself out as the outstanding centre forward in Europe. Werner could certainly learn a few tricks from his colleague at Cobham…

Having seen Kerr blossom into the elite striker football fans always knew she was (as the all-time top-scorer in Australia’s W-League and the NWSL America), followers of Chelsea are hoping that Timo Werner can undergo a similar transition from floundering forward to top marksman. Whilst Kerr’s struggles lasted for around 5 or 6 games on new shores, the German has struggled all season after a very promising start to the campaign. Some of his misses have been remarkable and no amount of statistics can explain them, for example this howler against Leeds United in December where he blocks Giroud’s goal-bound attempt and manages to hit the bar from a yard out with the goal gaping.

Werner’s comical miss against Leeds United sum up his recent struggles in front of goal. Photo credit: Sky Sports Football YouTube Channel

However, not all of the former Leipzig man’s misses have been comical. Often when Werner is through on goal – thanks to his intelligent movement and reading of the game – he has lacked the composure or confidence to convert clear-cut chances into goals (hence his earlier mentioned staggering underperformance on xG). Here, Werner uses his blistering pace to peel off the Sheffield United centre backs and race onto Hakim Ziyech’s brilliant ball over the top. With plenty of time and just a stranded Ramsdale – well off his line – to beat, Werner scoops the ball over the goalkeeper and wide. It is the kind of chance he would have put away without a second thought last term but possibly overthought it in the heat of the moment on this occasion.

Werner chips wide from a position he would have backed himself to score from last season. Photo credit: Chelsea FC YouTube Channel

On the day Chelsea went top of the Premier League for the first time in the 2020/21 season with a 2-0 win over Newcastle United, Werner managed to miss a glorious opportunity when played through on goal by teammate Tammy Abraham. With just the goalkeeper to beat and plenty of time to tee up his shot, Werner scuffed his right footed effort well wide of the goal.

Werner screws his effort wide when in a dangerous position. Photo credit: Sky Sports Football YouTube Channel

Nothing sums up Werner’s lack of confidence in his own finishing ability at present better than his woeful penalty miss against Luton in the FA Cup. With 5 minutes left on the clock, he hit his effort at a comfortable height almost straight down the middle, resulting in an easy save for the goalkeeper. This was in stark to his usual ice cold efforts from the spot, scoring five from five last season. It is worth noting that Werner himself won the penalty and has proved adept at winning spot kicks in crucial games against the likes of Tottenham and Liverpool.

Werner misses from the spot. Photo credit: BT Sport YouTube Channel

There is still plenty of time yet for Werner to prove his worth to Chelsea over the next half a decade. The purpose of this article is to illustrate how a slight upturn in self belief for a struggling elite striker can make all the difference to their goal return, and to encourage fans with the fact that the German – like Kerr – consistently finds himself in high quality shooting positions. Over time, expected goals (xG) tend to balance out: you only have to look at the massive overperformance of Mason Greenwood for Manchester United in the league last season, netting 10 goals from an xG of only 3.39! This season he has been brought back down to earth with a return of only 3 goals – 1.5 below his xG. Werner could very easily end up overperforming his impressive xG numbers next season if he gains some confidence and goes on a hot streak in front of goal, bringing his tally of goals closer to his xG since arriving in England. Even if you are sceptical about the fairly new xG method, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realise that if a striker keeps getting in the right areas, the goals will eventually follow, and that will surely be the case with Werner.

Dropped for successive games for the first time this season (significantly Chelsea’s best attacking performance of the Tuchel era so far came against Crystal Palace without Werner), it is crucial that Werner responds positively. On form, the forward fails to make Chelsea’s strongest eleven, but he could still play a vital role in a congested end to the season, with the Blues still chasing an unlikely (yet possible!) FA Cup and Champions League double. Perhaps a bit of finishing practise with his colleague, Sam Kerr, at Cobham could do the world of good for Werner. After all, if anyone knows about turning around a stuttering Chelsea career it’s her.

Written by Danny New

Hudson-Odoi and Werner hold the keys to Lampard’s future

Try as hard as you like but you can never get three players into two positions. Harder still is getting three into one. This is the situation Frank Lampard currently finds himself in, as he struggles to select his starting wingers. In Hakim Ziyech, Christian Pulisic and Callum Hudson-Odoi, Lampard has at his disposal arguably one of the most talented unit of natural wide men in Europe, but finding a way to keep them all happy has proven difficult. The main spanner in the works is Timo Werner’s inclusion on the left wing, meaning Pulisic and Hudson-Odoi are forced either to their weaker flank or to the bench. Finding a solution to his problems on the flanks could lead to Lampard getting his Chelsea side to click, but a number of issues must be solved before he can do this: deciding whether to deviate from the 4-3-3 he knows and trusts, getting the best out of the misfiring Werner and managing game time of all three wingers to avoid consistent injury issues.  

Breaking down the game time of Chelsea’s four main flank options highlights a startling statistic: Callum Hudson-Odoi has started just 16% of the side’s league games this term. This seems like a very low proportion for such an incredibly talented player, not least when you consider his reported £120,000 per week contract and that the club rejected an offer of a loan with a £70 million option to buy from Bayern Munich for him last summer. So, the 20-year-old must find it strange that he can barely get on the pitch under Lampard despite the European Champions showing interest in acquiring his services. More startling still is the fact that Pulisic and Ziyech have started only 47% and 37% of league games so far, meaning Hudson-Odoi is not being kept out by two more experienced wide men. Mason Mount and even Ruben Loftus-Cheek have been preferred to Hudson-Odoi in a wide role at times this season, perhaps hinting at a lack of faith in him from Lampard. More confusing still were the manager’s comments made post-Fulham match about the winger, ‘Callum deserved to start today, to be fair. It’s not easy selections for me on that side of the pitch at the moment.’ Those comments infer a lack of meritocracy at the club. Incidentally when Hudson-Odoi did come on in the 75th minute of that game, he immediately sparked Chelsea into action and was integral in Mount’s winning goal just three minutes after his introduction.

As Chelsea have slumped into the doldrums of midtable following a chastening run of form in December and January – which has included just 2 wins from 8 in the league – very few players have stood out for the right reasons. One of the select few is Hudson-Odoi, who has made a huge impact when fighting lost causes against Arsenal and Manchester City, and in changing games such as the aforementioned Fulham match. The youngsters brilliant assist from his unfavoured right flank against Arsenal almost led Chelsea to an unlikely comeback, before a certain regista missed yet another penalty. His clever run in behind Zinchenko and composed sliding finish to score a consolation goal against City were testament to his footballing intelligence, pace and composure. Put simply, if Lampard wants to revitalise his side, putting his faith in Hudson-Odoi is a good place to start. Recent lacklustre performances from last season’s post-restart talisman, Pulisic, who has a solitary goal from 786 minutes of league action so far this campaign, should open up a slot on the left flank for the Englishmen to get a regular run of games. With fixtures against Luton, Burnley and Wolves coming up, now is as good a time as any for Lampard to throw him in.

Could it finally be time for Hudson-Odoi to take centre stage at Stamford Bridge and fulfil his huge potential? Photo credit: Metro

Whilst Ziyech, Pulisic and Hudson-Odoi have struggled for game time due to a lack of fitness or trust from the manager, Timo Werner has had no such worries. Starting 82% of Chelsea’s league fixtures to date, with the majority (63%) of these starts on the left flank, the German has the third most league minutes for the Blues behind Mount and Kanté. It is obvious that Lampard is desperate for his summer signing to succeed but he is not suited to a role on the left wing in a 4-3-3. A modern-day Premier League winger must be creative, a good crosser and able to maintain and progress possession, traits which Werner does not yet possess. This is highlighted by his lacklustre 0.8 key passes and 0.2 successful crosses, as well as his huge 3.2 combined poor touches and times dispossessed per game, illustrating his lack of creativity and his inability to keep the ball let alone do anything dangerous with it. He still has a very respectable 7.16 expected goals to his name after 16 starts (his actual tally of 4 goals shows a lack of confidence in front of goal), as he manages to pop up in threatening positions. When compared to Hudson-Odoi’s 1.2 key passes, 0.5 successful crosses (a figure which could still improve) and 0.9 combined poor touches and dispossessions per game, it is clear that Chelsea could do with a natural winger on the left side.


A vital aspect of Lampard turning his side’s form around is getting the best out of £54 million signing Werner. The German has caused selection headaches for Lampard, with his ability to play in an alien 4-3-3 formation under question. Not physical enough to hold the ball up as a lone number 9 and nowhere near progressive enough to play as an out-and-out left winger as discussed, Werner does not seem comfortable anywhere in the current system. It is now well documented that the German enjoyed his most successful period at Red Bull Leipzig as part of a two man centre forward partnership, often paired with the tall and combative Dane, Yussuf Poulsen. Fortunately for the Blues, in Olivier Giroud and Tammy Abraham they have two centre forwards who fit the Poulsen mould and if anything should strike up a better partnership with Werner as they are much more rounded players than his former teammate. Playing Werner as a second striker (whoever his partner is) would also free up room on the left flank for one of Pulisic or Hudson-Odoi.

Werner has shown flashes of brilliance but must rediscover his scoring touch to save Lampard’s job. Could a positional change pave the way? Photo credit: talkSPORT

Werner was always going to take time to adapt to a new country and league, but one factor not spoken about enough is the new playing style he has been forced to adapt to. His frightening pace – topping out at an impressive 35 km/hour in the Bundesliga, quicker even than Pulisic! – made him perfect for a counter-attacking side shy on possession and desperate to transition from defence to attack as quickly as possible in Leipzig. At Chelsea he has still been able to break away past high defensive lines (see his late miss vs Fulham) but has also been expected to be a part of more patient build up play, something which will take time to adapt to. Playing as a second striker, he will have less responsibility when it comes to progressing the ball and tracking back, two of his least favourite parts of the game, and more opportunity to sit on the shoulder of the last defender and run in behind defences when possible.

When chasing results recently, Lampard has shown that he is not scared to switch up his tactics. An exciting 4-2-2-2 formation has been experimented with, most notably when chasing the game against a ten-man Fulham. This system would involve two holding midfielders covering an awful lot of ground to avoid the Blues losing the midfield battle, but if a pivot of Mount and Kanté could do the work of three men (given their work rates I wouldn’t put it past them) then it would open up an exciting world of opportunities for Chelsea’s forwards. Two of Pulisic, Ziyech and Hudson-Odoi would start on the wings with a front two of Olivier Giroud, Tammy Abraham or perhaps even Kai Havertz, partnering Timo Werner. This set-up could of course prove to be too open and may require two lights-out holding players (Declan Rice return anybody?) to properly function, but given the current system seems to be flawed it might be worth a try for Lampard, with winnable fixtures against the aforementioned Burnley and Wolves, as well as strugglers Sheffield United and Newcastle in the coming weeks.

Lampard may have to lean on Hudson-Odoi in the coming weeks. Photo credit: The Sun

As the Blues limp on, glancing nervously in their rear-view mirrors at Arsenal gaining on them and staring longingly up the table at the likes of Leicester City and Everton, it is obvious that a lot needs to change to kickstart their season. There are a lot of flaws in the team: a huge drop off in pressing, a worrying difficulty to transition between attack and defence (costing the side dearly against counter-attacking sides), as well as a lack of any tangible game plan other than to cross and hope in the final third. One quick fix is to play two natural wingers and select them based on merit, and to reposition Werner to a more natural role as a second striker. Now is a time for Lampard to be bold, with his future very much in doubt. There has been a suggestion of certain players downing tools under the current regime, and so the manager is fortunate that in Hudson-Odoi he has a potential game changer whom he can trust. The odds are stacked against Chelsea’s greatest ever player, but this writer is sure he will come back fighting. The next month is crucial, and with a few tweaks and a bit of luck we could see Chelsea emulate both Manchester clubs in soaring up the table. There is always hope.

Written by Daniel New

Lampard IN

Two hundred and eleven goals in the blue of Chelsea. Thirteen trophies gathered during his playing career at Stamford Bridge. One European Cup won as captain of London’s finest. Countless memorable displays. Frank Lampard is not so much a part of Chelsea, as he is Chelsea itself. It is beyond this writer’s understanding that anyone could be calling for the head of our greatest ever player after all he has given this club. But putting sentimentality to one side, in this piece I will try and outline a case for Frank Lampard remaining as manager of Chelsea Football Club, as well as suggesting where and how he can improve his side in the coming weeks.

A glance at the Premier League standings is enough to make any Chelsea fan grimace, the Blues are languishing in 9th place at the time of writing, behind the likes of Aston Villa, Southampton and Everton. But that is not to say that the lowly standing is deserved. Had the likes of Timo Werner been more clinical in front of goal and Edouard Mendy been available instead of the hapless Kepa Arrizabalaga to keep goal in games against West Brom and Liverpool, the table could have a very different look about it. As it stands, the Blues’ big-money summer signing (hot off a 28-league goal campaign) has failed to find the net in his previous 9 league outings. However, if his 5 efforts on goal which had rattled the woodwork gone in, the German would have been hailed a resounding success and the Blues would be further up the table. Thanks also to Kepa’s inability to do the absolute basics of goalkeeping, Chelsea conceded 5 goals and dropped 5 crucial points in the three aforementioned games. Put simply, Lampard and his team have not had the rub of the green so far this campaign, and to further demonstrate this, Chelsea sit 2nd in the expected points table so far (via Understat). As it stands, the Londoner’s are 6 points and 7 places below where their performances deem them worthy of. It is likely that with time Chelsea will go on a hot-streak and overperform their expected results, balancing out their luck over the course of the season and firing them up the table.

Coaxing the best form out of summer signing Timo Werner is crucial to Lampard’s system and success, Photo Credit: thechelseachronicle.com

A 3-1 victory over Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United temporarily put Chelsea top of the table in early December, following a 9-game unbeaten streak in the league. However, those three points came at a hefty price as the majestic Hakim Ziyech succumbed to injury, keeping him out of the next 5 league games, 3 of which Chelsea lost. Before that it seemed Lampard was on to something with his 4-3-3 system, Ziyech being the main beneficiary of the set up. Both full backs were able to bomb forwards, in turn providing space for the wingers to cut in and shoot – or in Ziyech’s case provide left footed deliveries to the back post from the inside-right channel – or feed Reece James or Ben Chilwell on the overlap, who have both provided excellent balls into the box this season. With the loss of Ziyech occurring at the same time as Callum Hudson-Odoi picking up a knock in training, Chelsea were left with only one fit senior winger in Christian Pulisic. As Timo Werner has struggled to adapt his game to the left wing, Lampard’s side lacked any real cohesion in attack, with no width provided outside of the full back duo. The game plan seemed to change to cross and hope, even against Manchester City where all 5-foot-9-inches of Timo Werner were helpless against the comparatively towering duo of Stones and Dias. Crossing may be in vogue at the moment – with Liverpool leading the league this season with 391 attempted so far – but Chelsea need another option in attack for when opponents crowd out box. Slick linkup play and passing patterns will develop as a very young and freshly put together attacking unit gel and get to know each other’s games. When the Blues eventually have a fully fit squad and hit the top form that they showed glimpses of in wins against Burnley and Sheffield United, Lampard’s side will start to play in his image.

Naturally given the busy festive period and the increased frequency of games during this pandemic hit season, many of the squad look jaded and in need of a rest. However, with Lampard’s job on the line he has not been able to afford his key men time to recover which has resulted in their games often looking flat and lacking energy. Perhaps Lampard could afford to rotate more given the quality and depth of squad he has at his disposal. N’Golo Kanté, for example, has been way off his best in appearances against Manchester City and Arsenal – being caught out of position regularly and uncharacteristically careless in possession (see his intercepted blind pass which led to City’s third goal) – and is in need of a rest. Lampard fortunately has the incredibly talented Billy Gilmour ready and raring to go in the Frenchman’s place. Similarly, quality internationals such as Olivier Giroud and Emerson Palmieri as well as talented youngsters in Tino Anjorin and Henry Lawrence are all of sufficient quality to play in the Premier League and could give valuable rest to Timo Werner, Ben Chilwell, Mason Mount (among others) and Reece James, respectively. Utilising the large squad at his disposal is key to Lampard keeping his players fit enough to play his ideal high-energy pressing game as well as ensuring the players on the fringes of the squad are kept happy and do not revolt when the going gets tough (*cough, Marcus Alonso, cough*).

In his first season at the helm, Lampard looked to have a clear idea on how he wanted his Chelsea side to play. The side pressed aggressively and high up the pitch, bringing their defensive line close to the halfway line in order to compact the opposition in their own half. The results of this modern, progressive game plan were mixed, with Chelsea sparkling in attack – achieving the second highest expected goals scored over the course of the season (76) – but a mess in the defensive transition as teams frequently ripped through them on the counter, contributing to the massive 54 goals conceded throughout the campaign. Having strengthened defensively in the summer with the acquisitions of Mendy, Silva and Chilwell, Lampard would have hoped for a thorough preseason in which he could drill his side on the intricacies of his pressing style and how to efficiently switch shape when possession is lost before opponents can fly up the field. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc on the fixture list, the manager was given limited time to integrate his 6 summer signings into his system. It is difficult to adjust for that number of signings in any normal season but given the circumstances it has proved a trying task. On top of this, regular domestic and European midweek matches have left little to no time for intensive, detailed work on the training ground. Not only are regular starters fatigued from the workload, but the coaches are unable to properly drill their sides and make the improvements necessary to turn form around. The board must stick by Lampard and give him time to work on his sides set up now that the hectic festive period has come to a close.

Lampard will be hoping to continue his winning ways at Chelsea in a managerial role. Could European glory be on the way if Abramovich has faith in him? Photo Credit: UEFA Twitter

Lampard cannot blame all his defeats on a lack of luck and a congested fixture list, however. Injuries and profligacy have hindered Chelsea, but a lot of the harm caused this season has been self-inflicted. A worrying trend has emerged recently that I feel is in desperate need of being rectified. In recent games against Arsenal and Manchester City especially, Chelsea’s entire midfield seems to have vanished for most of the game. It is clear that a three-man midfield unit of Mount, Kanté and Kovacic is not good enough when facing top-half opposition. Both Kanté and Kovacic have very little positional discipline, whilst the latter does very little meaningful pressing or defending – his 1.7 tackles and interceptions per league game this season proving that (for context, Kanté stands at 5.2 in the same metric). Lampard needs to address this issue as a matter of urgency. It could be that playing Billy Gilmour as a deep-lying, disciplined number 6 to break up opposition counter-attacks and to set our attacks in motion could be an option. The 19-year-old Scott is a promising talent and superior to Jorginho in most – if not all – aspects of a midfielder’s game. This could see Kanté returning to his position as a ‘free 8’, given license to roam and destroy opposition breaks before they get going. Another alternative could be to deploy a midfield pivot of Kanté and Mount in a 4-2-3-1 to allow Havertz to play in his favoured role as a number 10, however, this would rely on the Frenchman holding back his natural urge to cover every blade of grass and for Havertz to fully commit defensively. Whatever the solution is, it is obvious that this is a major area Lampard has to look into, and one which could hold the key when it comes to changing Chelsea’s sorry record this season against teams in the top 8.

A major worry for owner Roman Abramovich will be the struggles of summer purchases Timo Werner and Kai Havertz. The German duo were bought in for a combined £120 million and were expected to lead Chelsea’s title charge as Liverpool and Manchester City have faltered this term. However, neither has truly replicated the scintillating form that saw them contribute 36 and 18 Bundesliga goals respectively last season. Having broken the bank to bring the pair to west London, Abramovich is well within his rights to question why Lampard has failed to get the best out of them so far. Whilst the usual excuses of struggling to adapt to a new country and a new league are valid (not to mention Havertz was left reeling following his time out with the COVID-19 virus), it seems that Lampard’s system has not been adjusted to facilitate the Germans. Havertz thrives in the final third, playing high risk, high reward football and making late runs in to the box – as was his manager’s trademark back in his day – to finish moves. Therefore, his positioning as a number 8 on the right of a midfield trio will have frustrated him as he spends much of his time tracking back and tackling and less of it contributing to goals as is his strength (his 3 goal contributions from 15 league games is underwhelming for a player of his calibre). Perhaps a move to a number 10 role where he is able to link play and attack without worrying about defending – and giving the ball away deep in his own half as we have become accustomed to – so much could see him rise from his meagre 0.6 shots and 0.7 key passes a game this season to the 2 he managed in each metric last campaign. Similarly Werner has been forced out of his natural position to facilitate Lampard’s use of a 4-3-3, and although he has been getting into dangerous positions (his 6.8 expected goals from 17 league games is respectable), his ball retention and crossing abilities are nowhere near the level of a natural winger. Playing Werner with one of Giroud or Abraham to feed off – as he did with Yussuf Poulson at RB Leipzig – in a front 2 could help the German rediscover his best form. Feeding off knock-downs and running into the space left by centre backs occupying themselves with his strike partner will help him to find his feet in this league. Managers who have been unable to facilitate their star players have not fared well under Abramovich (see Carlo Ancelotti with Fernando Torres and José Mourinho’s first spell with Andriy Shevchenko) and so it is essential Lampard can get Werner and Havertz playing to the best of their abilities.

To avoid a similar fate to Ancelotti, Lampard must get the best out of his star players. Photo Credit: The Irish Mirror

It is important to remember that when Lampard was appointed he was not expected to deliver immediate success. Hit with a transfer ban, the young manager was unable to make signings to mould the squad to his liking, and perhaps more importantly, he was unable to replace Chelsea’s greatest player of the last decade in Eden Hazard. Scoring 16 goals and laying on another 15 for his teammates, Hazard directly contributed to 49% of Chelsea’s league goals in his final campaign at Stamford Bridge. It is rare to have a side so overwhelmingly dependent on one talismanic figure, and so losing the Belgian was a massive blow to Lampard. The board decided that Champions League qualification was sufficient in Lampard’s first campaign, with his second focussed on showing further improvements before an expected title charge in his third. It is easy to forget the incredible work Lampard has done thus far at Chelsea and it is reasonable to think that he should be given time to enact his philosophy and push for silverware next season as his three year plan comes to a conclusion.

Fans who have been following Chelsea over the past couple of decades will have been refreshed by the idea of owner Roman Abramovich sticking behind an exciting young coach for the long run. The culture of hiring and firing instilled at the club since the Russian Oligarch’s takeover in 2003 may have bought with it 18 trophies (if we stoop to Arsenal’s level by including our brace of Community Shields), but it has left fans yearning for more stability. In the 16 years that preceded Frank Lampard’s appointment, Abramovich ran through 11 managers (twice welcoming José Mourinho and Guus Hiddink) and yet it is difficult to remember any notable academy graduates breaking through and starring regularly for the senior team in that time. Given the immense pressure to deliver success in the short-term, managers were unable to plan ahead and therefore were reluctant to put their neck on the line for youngsters. Frank Lampard has changed that culture and finally shown everyone why Chelsea’s academy, led so ably by Neil Bath, is renowned worldwide. Promoting Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, Reece James and Fikayo Tomori to the first team and playing them regularly signalled a huge change in the Chelsea philosophy. No longer were the club going to go out and spend £50 million on a player when an academy graduate who could do their job was working hard for their chance. With Gilmour, Anjorin, Lawrence, Valentino Livramento, Lewis Bate and many more likely to follow their fellow academy graduates to the first team, this progression shows no signs of slowing down. If Lampard were not manager, it is feasible to suggest that none of this would have happened. Yes, we knew Abraham, Mount and James were quality players, but would another manager have stuck by them when they struggled and they had the likes of Giroud, Barkley and Azpilicueta waiting in the wings? Any new arrival could still decide he has no room in his side for Mount, Abraham et al and revert to type. This academy revolution has brought the fans closer to the club than ever before, seeing their own starring week-in-week-out. Lampard is the man who will keep this going, and many fans will massively appreciate that.

Lampard’s faith in youth hasn’t gone unnoticed by fans. Could continued trust in youngsters like Billy Gilmour save his job? Photo Credit: Chelsea News.

Narratives in football change quickly. Coming off the back of a highly respectable debut season at Chelsea which comprised of a top four finish and an FA Cup final, Lampard hit the ground running with a 17-game unbeaten streak in all competitions. A sticky patch of form over a month has seen Chelsea go from ‘title favourites’ (take Klopp’s word not mine!) to midtable mediocrity. But the story can reverse for Lampard just as easily. You only have to glance up North to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to see how quickly fortunes can turn. In early December as Lampard was heavily praised by the media, his counterpart was widely criticised following an early exit from the Champions League and a difficult start to the season which had seen them lose 6-1 at home to Tottenham. A month on and the Norwegian has led United to top of the league with a game in hand. Similar turnarounds have been witnessed at Arsenal and to a lesser-extent Manchester City, as Guardiola has gone from under the radar to apparent favourites for the league. In this highly unusual season, Lampard’s side find themselves a mere 3 points off the top four, albeit having played one or two games more than most sides above them. The compacted calendar means that a few weeks of hot form can result in a long winning run which in turn can fire a side up the table. Should Lampard make a few tweaks to his midfield, get Werner firing again and sort out his press, I have complete faith that the Blues will rocket back up the table. It should be every Chelsea fan’s dream to see a club legend succeed at Stamford Bridge, and fortunately for us Frank Lampard has what it takes to lead us to the top. He just needs time, something which right now seems to be in short supply.

Written by Daniel New

Christensen: From the next John Terry to defensive liability

When Chelsea’s ‘Captain, Leader, Legend’ himself picked a successor to his crown as the club’s leading centre half, fans everywhere sat up and took notice. So, when John Terry described Andreas Christensen as a ‘top footballer’ and ‘one of the future men for Chelsea’ back in 2014, many would have expected him to have nailed down a starting slot long before now. Terry even went so far as to say that the Danish international should be ‘hungry to take my place in the team’, but that is something that has never truly materialised. After dropping to fourth choice centre back at the club and following his latest high-profile error against Aston Villa, it is time to question whether Christensen has a future at Stamford Bridge. 

With Chelsea 1-0 up against Aston Villa at the break and looking for a win to nudge them out of a mini crisis, an early goal conceded in controversial fashion was hardly what Frank Lampard was looking for. Yet with Aston Villa attacking on the break, Christensen went down following contact from nimble playmaker Jack Grealish as both contested possession of the ball. Play continuedbut whilst the much slighter Grealish got up and carried on, the 6-foot 1-inch-tall centre back remained on the floor. Half a minute later Villa had scored as a stretched Chelsea defence did not have the numbers to commit a man to mark Anwar El Ghazi and prevent him from freely knocking in an equaliser at the back post. The match finished 1-1 and to make matters even worse for Christensen, his hero rather bluntly put him down on social media following the final whistle. Replying to a comment under his latest Instagram post accusing Aston Villa of poor sportsmanship in continuing when the opposition were a man down, Terry (currently assistant manager at Villa) stated that his former teammate should have ‘got up’. Having already been sent off for a rugby-tackle style foul on Sadio Mane at Stamford Bridge earlier this season – costing his side in a 2-0 loss to the reigning Champions – the Dane is hardly inspiring confidence in Chelsea fans.  

None of this was in the script when Antonio Conte integrated Christensen into a three-man defence in the 2017/18 season. Coming off the back of an excellent couple of seasons on loan in the Bundesliga at Borussia Monchengladbach, a then 21-year-old Christensen finally got his chance in a Chelsea shirt, just as Terry was leaving Stamford Bridge following his move to Aston Villa. 23 starts in all competitions gave fans a reason to be excited in the youngster, who was one of a few bright sparks in an otherwise horrible campaign as Conte left the London side in a mess. Quickly it became apparent that Christensen would become the side’s new David Luiz figure, as the fiery Brazilian was shunned from the side following a falling out with the manager. The Dane’s distribution was likened to Luiz, and he stood out as one of the finest passers of the ball in the league, with a 93.4% passing accuracy across the season. However, playing as part of a defensive three covered up a multitude of failing in the Dane’s game which were exposed when new coach Maurizio Sarri implemented a back four.

Christensen has always stood out for his excellent ability with the ball at his feet, Photo Credit: Bleacher Report

The evidence was perhaps there all along that Christensen was not the centre back Chelsea fans always hoped he could be. His break-out season’s tackle success rate of 53.3% was low but not disastrous, as Antonio Rudiger and Gary Cahill were there to help him out. However, Sarri did not have faith in the former prodigy to lead his defence and so Christensen made only 6 starts in the Premier League that season, having to be content with being a Europa League regular. His tackling ability appeared to decline further, with only 42% of his attempted challenges being successful in the league that season. For context, Chelsea’s Thiago Silva has completed 64% of his challenges so far this season. Christensen was rapidly building a reputation for being a wonderful passer capable of playing out from the back, but a player who was far too light-weight and error-prone to be successful in the Premier League.

Low on confidence, a season of being constantly thrown in and dragged out of Lampard’s side in 2019/20 certainly was not what Christensen would have hoped for. Whilst his fellow academy graduates Reece James, Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham made themselves indispensable to the side with consistently excellent performances, Christensen became a scapegoat for one of the worst Chelsea defences in the Premier League era, as the side concede 54 goals (over three times more than the vintage of the 2004/05 season). Starting 21 league games, he would be dropped for between one and five games on five separate occasions. This lack of consistent game time seemed to spell the end for Christensen.

The signing of Thiago Silva, ‘O Monstro’ on a free from PSG this summer has transformed the Chelsea defence into a different beast. With Kurt Zouma looking back to his rejuvenated best and performing at scarcely believable levels in the air, game time is hard to come by for the rest of the Blue’s centre backs. Despite being left out of the match day squad for 4 consecutive league games, Rudiger seems to be back in favour with Lampard and currently sits above Christensen in the pecking order, which could result in him starting a fair few games across the season as the 36-year-old Silva’s game time is closely managed. The delayed European Championships are due to commence this summer and Christensen will be desperate for a run of game time to stake his claim as a starter at the tournament. However, such an opportunity seems unlikely to arise at Chelsea, so could we be seeing the last of the Dane at Stamford Bridge?

Much has been made of Christensen’s seeming lack of physicality, often leading to him being labelled as ‘light weight’, Photo Credit: Football 365

A tidy, ball-playing centre back will always draw attention on the continent, so it is no surprise to see Christensen linked with top 6 sides in Spain, France and Germany (via the Athletic). It will be a great shame to see such a talented academy graduate depart but it could be for the best. Fikayo Tomori is already frustrated with his lack of first team football and Marc Guehi is developing at a frightening rate on loan at Swansea this season and will surely soon be knocking on Lampard’s door asking for regular game time.

Ultimately Christensen’s lack of physicality and seeming inability to mark big, physical forwards in the ilk of Michail Antonio and Christian Benteke, has been his undoing. For every excellent performance against the likes of Manchester City at home last season (playing without a recognised centre forward, allowing Christensen to excel against physically weaker opponents), there was a horror show (see West Ham, Crystal Palace, Sheffield United and more). His Chelsea story began when John Terry’s came to an end and perhaps fans were too keen to see their captain’s boots filled immediately and the pressure got to a young Christensen, but for whatever reason he has been unable to fulfil his massive potential. Maybe one day we will see him excelling at one of Europe’s biggest sides, but for now it is difficult to see a future in which Christensen remains at his boyhood club.

Written by Danny New

How Chilwell has emerged as Ashley Cole’s heir apparent

A few months ago I was convinced that the Chelsea hierarchy were making a huge mistake in targeting Ben Chilwell as the club’s next long-term left back. The position has been a major weakness in the squad since Ashley Cole left Stamford Bridge in the summer of 2014 (excluding two scintillating seasons of Marcos Alonso as a left wing-back under Antonio Conte) and I was convinced that there were better, more cost-effective options on the market as I pushed for Alex Telles and Nicolas Tagliafico to be considered. I am happy to admit that I was wrong and, surprisingly, Frank Lampard and the board had a better idea of what was needed than I did! We can’t always be right, and having previously performed a U-turn in my opinion about Declan Rice, I will happily do the same for his compatriot, who looks to have Chelsea’s left back slot for the next decade under lock and key.

Chilwell has hit the ground running as a Chelsea player. After only 10 league starts the England international has racked up 5 goal contributions (2 goals and 3 assists), only one short of his tally  over the entirety of the last campaign. His early form helped Chelsea shoot up the table to third before their recent wobbles against Everton and Wolverhampton Wanderers, and if he continues to exhibit the skills he has shown so far I have no doubt that he will be a key player in helping the club avert their current mini-crisis.

An early sign of Chilwell being the perfect fit for Lampard’s system is his couple of league goals. The former Leicester man got off to a dream start by converting (and assisting) against Crystal Palace on his debut, lashing a loose ball on the left of the area past a helpless Guaita. Lampard wants his full backs to be offensive, especially against defensive low blocks, and to get in and around the area, something Chilwell is clearly willing to do. Even his scruffy – potentially inadvertent – finish against Sheffield United was an example of Lampard’s ideal goal. Chilwell stealthily floated in between wing-back Max Lowe and goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale at the back post to convert a beautiful deep cross from Hakim Ziyech. Only a slightly cynical looking shove in the back against Burnley prevented him converting another back post cross from Reece James. Chilwell is consistently making darting runs off the shoulder of the last defender towards the back post to gamble on a deep delivery from one of the formidable duo of James and Ziyech. This is something we saw Pulisic excel at last campaign but given his injury-hit start to the season, Lampard has clearly asked his new left back to take up the responsibility, and if he continues to make runs in this vein then the goals will continue to come.

It is not only his goal scoring which has been promising so far. One of my main gripes with Chilwell before his arrival was his lack of apparent crossing ability, as he managed only 0.7 completed crosses per 90 minutes in each of his previous 3 seasons at Leicester. With the aerial threat provided by Olivier Giroud, Tammy Abraham and Kai Havertz, having excellent crossers is essential to Lampard’s system as proved by Reece James. However, not only has Chilwell massively improved in this department, he has also overtaken his compatriot’s numbers, managing 1.6 completed crosses per league game so far in 2020/21 compared to James’s 1.5. This is clearly an area that the 23-year-old has worked on extensively in training, and it has proved crucial on the pitch. His near-post delivery was gratefully accepted by the left boot of Giroud to put us ahead at Wolves, and his delightful, floated delivery into the Palace box was converted by the clinical head of Kurt Zouma in October. The variety of crosses in his repertoire make him a danger to any defence and this will continue to prove crucial to Chelsea throughout the season.

When looking at Chilwell’s underlying numbers last campaign, I was also concerned by his minimal defensive contributions in comparison to Cesar Azpilicueta, the player Lampard most trusted to fill in at left back last season. Whilst his tackles and interceptions per game are roughly the same this term (2.7 compared to 2.6), he is making fewer fouls and crucially is getting dribbled past less than he was last time out. Last season Chilwell was bypassed 1.1 times per 90 minutes of league play, a number he has reduced to 0.7 so far. As defending against quick counters was one of Chelsea’s Achilles heels last season, having a reliable presence to stop rapid wingers in their tracks before they can launch counter-attacks is vital, and Chilwell is certainly playing his part in doing so thus far.

We can see that Chilwell is excelling so far, but how is he doing compared to another left back Chelsea were linked with in the summer who recently arrived in England? Telles signed for Manchester United on deadline day, and although there was a time that I would have been envious of this deal, Chilwell has so far proved himself to be the superior signing (although this is from a very small sample size). The Portuguese full back has only a solitary assist to show from his 8 league and Champions League starts to date despite being a much more attack-minded player than his English counterpart last season. He is also dribbled past more and makes more fouls per game than Chilwell, although he wins possession of the ball back for his side on average once more every 90 minutes. Additionally, Chilwell is 4 years Telles’ junior and is yet to enter his prime. Although United may have found a solid left back for the next few years, Chelsea have snaffled a supreme one for the decade to come.

The Blue’s signings have largely performed excellently so far this term: with Edouard Mendy a gargantuan presence in goal, Thiago Silva an inspiring leader at the back and Timo Werner terrifying opposition defences with his electric pace, it could be argued that Chilwell has made the greatest impact of the bunch. The Englishman has turned left back from a nightmare position to one which is a genuine asset to the side, and he is only going to get better from here as he meshes with the side’s other new signings. Not only has Chilwell excelled on the pitch, but he is also said to be incredibly popular in the changing room and has certainly bought into the youthful, positive vibe around this Chelsea squad. It has taken 6 years and over fifty million pounds invested in failed left backs, but Chelsea have finally got their man and in Chilwell we have someone who can help drive the side to a new era of glory.

Sergio Reguilón Scout Report


After completing his debut season without signing any players, Frank Lampard has already taken an early plunge into the market as he looks to assemble the next great Chelsea squad. Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner have been brought in for a combined £85 million, and should go a long way towards improving the side’s goal tally next season. With Kai Havertz likely to follow later in the window, the gaping holes remaining seem to be at the back. Arguably the number one priority should be bringing in a new goalkeeper to replace the hapless Kepa Arrizabalaga, with a commanding centre back not far behind, but left back also remains a position which has long been in need of strengthening. Chelsea Twitter has exploded over the past couple of weeks after Sky Sports reported potential interest from the Blues in Sergio Reguilón, with many delighted to see anyone other than Ben Chilwell lined up to finally succeed Ashley Cole. So how good is Reguilón, what can he bring to the team, and is the excitement in his signature solely down to him being a far cheaper alternative to Chilwell?

Reguilón has rapidly made a name for himself out on loan from Real Madrid at Sevilla this season. The 23 year old helped his side to a fourth placed finish whilst earning himself the title of the ‘best left back in La Liga’ in 2019/20. He excelled as part of Spain’s third best back line, leaking just 34 goals across the season (fewer than Barcelona and bettered only by the Madrid clubs). Supposedly available this summer for just £18 million (he is behind Marcelo and Ferland Mendy in the Real pecking order), he offers a cost-effective solution to a weak area of Chelsea’s squad, strengthening it whilst allowing more funds to be pumped into solving the goalkeeper and centre back areas.

Despite being defensively solid, it is in the attacking phase that Reguilón stands out. He has contributed 6 goals in 29 league starts this season, the same as both Chilwell and Marcos Alonso (admittedly having played 1000 minutes more than his compatriot). He also manages to create a chance and take 1.3 shots on average per game, above Chilwell in the combined metric but well below Alonso’s 3.1 across the two. However, it is his ball-carrying ability which really sets him apart from most full backs. The Spain under-21 international completes an incredible 1.7 dribbles per game, the fourth highest figure in Europe amongst natural left backs (behind Alphonso Davies, Theo Hernandez and Noah Katterbach). His ability to drive up the left flank with the ball could prove useful as this season’s regular starting left backs – Azpilicueta and Alonso – are often slow in transitioning from defence to attack. With an energetic presence bombing up and down the left and overlapping Pulisic, our ability to cause overloads and trouble the opposition’s right flank would massively increase.

Reguilón has excelled on loan at Sevilla this season, earning the title of the best left back in La Liga, photo credit: football.london

With one of Azpilicueta and Alonso starting every game at left-back since the season’s restart, a lack of pace in the position has been highlighted. Reguilón is comparatively rapid, clocked at speeds of 33.5km/hr, and his speed combined with his low centre of mass make him a frightening prospect on the break. From the footage I have seen of him, he appears to have very quick feet too, somehow conjuring the ball past opposition defenders when at full flow. His speed of foot and mind certainly make him an appealing prospect to Lampard, and while Chilwell is actually slightly faster (34.7km/hr), he manages a mere 0.7 dribbles per game, highlighting just how good Reguilón is going forwards. 

An aspect of Reguilón’s game which will boost his standing with Frank Lampard is his impressive progressive passing. The Spaniard completed an average of 10.18 progressive passes (defined as a pass 30m long from inside the player’s own half or 10m long from inside the opposition half) per league game this season and despite his brave style of play – he always looks to play out from the back regardless of how intense the opposition press is – he still complete 81% of his passes. He is ahead of Chilwell in both metrics (9.6 and 72% respectively) and his attacking instincts are best illustrated by the fact that before the season’s postponement in March, he had taken the second most shots of any La Liga full back. 

Reguilón is yet to make an appearance for Spain but has turned out for the under-21s, photo credit: Marca

Something else which marks out Reguilón as a player perfect for Lampard’s system is his ability to slot into a pressing side. His 0.7 tackles a game are dwarfed by Chilwell’s 1.6, but he doesn’t need to rely on fighting for the ball when he has become such an expert at reading the play, managing 2.7 interceptions per game (compared to the Englishman’s 1). His 8.57 recoveries and 4.04 counter-pressing recoveries per game paints picture of his aggressive, front-foot game. His pace also allows him to quickly recover if he misses an interception or if space behind a high line is exploited. These traits make him perfect for Lampard’s positive, attacking brand of football and would surely help to sure up a porous defence next season.

No player is perfect and one of the main concerns over Reguilón is his lack of height. Standing at just 5 foot 8 inches tall, he is not aerially dominant. He manages to win 1.3 aerial duels per 90 minutes, not far off half the figures of Alonso and Chilwell (2.3 and 2.1 respectively), and this won’t fill fans with hope given Chelsea’s vulnerability to conceding from set pieces. However, Reguilón is taller than the best Premier League left back of all time, Ashley Cole, and with some work on the timing of his leaps he could quickly put concerns over his aerial prowess to bed. 

Although the 23 year old regularly looks to create chances from crosses, averaging 5.34 per 90 minutes – 6th most in La Liga – he isn’t always accurate. His cross completion rate of 39% is considerably lower than his peers in the top 6 and marks out his delivery as something to improve upon. The main causes for encouragement is that he regularly finds himself in dangerous positions and with some practise he could become an expert at whipping in dangerous balls into the box from a variety of areas. 

Having watched footage of Reguilón in Spain and in the Europa League, as well as taking a deep dive into his underlying numbers, it is clear that he is an exciting prospect. Although this piece is not a discussion of whether Chilwell or Reguilón should be signed this summer (stats of other left backs were included for comparison), it is clear that at just £18 million, Reguilón would represent a much smarter investment than the £80 million rated Chilwell. The Spaniard mixes pace, quick feet and an aggressive style of defending to make him a very competent modern full back, and with some work on his crossing and heading he could grow into one of the most well rounded in the league. With the transfer window well and truly underway, now could be the time for Chelsea to pounce and secure one of the bargain signings of the summer. 

Written by Daniel New

Could Declan Rice become Chelsea’s new John Terry?

Everyone makes mistakes. Some are more expensive than others – think Kepa Arrizabalaga’s £71.6 million move to Chelsea – but at the end of the day we as fans can sometimes make the wrong call when assessing players. When Declan Rice was linked with a move to Stamford Bridge earlier this season I was quick to rebuke the rumours, thinking the he could prove to be more of a Drinkwater than Makélélé at Chelsea. However, with the benefit of hindsight I can hold my hands up and say I was wrong, and in this article I will try and convince any remaining doubters as to why Rice could be a crucial part of Chelsea’s future, and how he could be moulded into a Terry-style figure in this exciting, young team.

Chelsea went into their away match with West Ham on the 1st of July hot off a run of wins against Aston Villa, Manchester City and Leicester City following the restart of the season. With an in-form Manchester United hot on our tails, however, a win against our London rivals seemed crucial in the fight for a top four space. Unfortunately for the Blues, they came up against a Declan Rice inspired side. The 21 year old captained his team in the absence of Mark Noble, and put in a display befitting of a great leader. He won an astonishing 5 tackles, the most of any player on the pitch, created a chance, and completed 90% of his passes as he dictated the Hammer’s play in a calm, mature fashion. It was the latest in a string of impressive displays from the youngster, who has impressed with both his leadership and playing style, as he continues to draw attention from some of the league’s best sides.

Rice has largely been deployed as a defensive midfielder or as a defensive minded central midfielder this season, and has managed to feature in every single minute of West Ham’s league campaign so far. It will come as no surprise to anyone who has watched the London side play this season that Rice has been kept busy in the middle of the park, but even so his 5.2 tackles and interceptions per game this season – a figure which cannot be matched by any West Ham or Chelsea player this season – is very impressive, and he ranks 4th in the league for tackles completed on 109. Possibly more impressive is Rice’s incredible 75.5% duel success rate, a whole 13% better than arguably the best defensive midfielder in the league, Wilfred Ndidi. His impressive technique in the tackle means he concedes only 1.1 fouls per game despite his side often being overrun in midfield, almost half the rate of N’Golo Kanté’s 2 every match.

In Lampard’s system Rice will be expected to press opponents on the ball, something which may come as a slight shock to his system following his time in Moyes’s low block, minimal press system at West Ham. However, the Englishman has proven himself to be an adept presser, with a 29% pressure success rate, only slightly behind Ndidi’s 33%. These figures all point to an extremely well-rounded defensive player, but how is he going the other way?

Rice impressed whilst captaining West Ham to a 3-2 win against Chelsea, photo credit: football.london

Whilst he might not quite be at Jorginho’s level in the way he dictates play, Rice is still very competent on the ball, and gives a solid platform for more creative players around him at West Ham, including the likes of Felipe Anderson and Pablo Fornals, to excel. Competing 36 passes per game at a success rate of 86% pales in comparison to his Chelsea counterpart (Jorginho completes 72 passes at an average 88% completion rate), but the two have very different remits in very different systems, with West Ham averaging a mere 41% possession of the ball every game compared to Chelsea’s 62%. Rice also creates a respectable 0.5 chances per game, just shy of Jorginho’s 0.8, and has an impressive 78% long pass (over 25 yards) accuracy, 2% less than the Italian and 5% lower than Kanté’s. Even though Rice comes out below Chelsea’s current options in all of these metrics it is vital to point out that a lack of players in offensive positions due to his side’s defensive setup gives him little opportunity to impress with his range of passing and he is limited by both his side’s system and their possession in what he can do on the ball. I would expect him to thrive in Chelsea’s system. 

It is easy to see when looking closely at Rice’s underlying numbers that he is an incredible prospect, and given his obvious leadership skills – he has captained his side on 4 occasions and seems comfortable commanding his teammates to do what he knows is best for the team – it is clear to see why he is valued at around £60 million. As you can tell from the headline for this article, I believe Rice could be the long-awaited heir to John Terry in Lampard’s side, but this would require him to move back into his former role as a centre back. This should not trouble the Englishmen too much as he only stepped into midfield in the 2018/19 season as manager Pellegrini noticed his impressive distribution. Before being dropped by Chelsea as a 14 year old, and for the next 5 years, he played as a dominant centre back. Does he have the traits to succeed at the back at Chelsea though?

It has been noticeable since the restart that Chelsea don’t have a commanding presence at the back, with the empty stadiums exaggerating the blatant lack of communication in the Blue’s defence. Rice has proven himself to be a commanding figure who talks and instructs those around him very well. He would fit into this Chelsea side perfectly, if he could transfer his defensive skills and calm passing out from the back to a centre back berth then he could organise what has been the most porous Chelsea defence for a generation, one which has leaked more league goals than 15th placed Brighton. It seems an age since Terry marshalled a defensive line containing Carvalho, Ferreira and Gallas to a title, conceding just 15 goals on the way: this season 54 goals have been conceded. Rice could make an instant and vital difference in this regard.

Declan Rice has remained close friends with Mason Mount since leaving the Blue’s academy, could Mason help lure his old friend to Stamford Bridge? Photo credit: The Sun

The parallels between Rice and Terry are remarkable. Whilst Rice made the move from Chelsea to West Ham aged 14, Terry made the move the other way at the same age. Like Rice, Terry’s ball-playing abilities saw him feature in midfield in the youth set-up (before settling at centre back). Terry captained Chelsea just 2 days before turning 21, and Rice similarly captained his side before turning 21. Should Lampard and the board make a move for Rice, he could continue the similarities between himself and arguably the greatest Premier League centre back of all time in captaining Chelsea.

Like Terry, Rice wouldn’t be the tallest central defender, standing at 1.85 metres tall (2cm shorter than Terry), but he uses a mixture of good timing and physicality to dominate in the air. He currently wins 1.4 aerial duels per game at a success rate of 60%: a rate better than Rudiger (58.1%), Christensen (57%) and Tomori (55%), but inferior to Zouma (77%). However, aerial ability is usually a trait which improves with experience and so there is a good chance Rice will grow into the aerial master like Terry before him, something which is necessary as we have been incredibly vulnerable to set pieces and crosses this season. 

Looking towards the future, a centre back pairing of Declan Rice and Fikayo Tomori looks like a stable base on which to build a title challenging squad. Tomori brings incredible pace, and has clocked top speeds of 34.2 km/hour this season (1.3km/hour quicker than the very fast Zouma), something which makes him a shoe-in as a sweeper behind the dominant Rice. With the potential for the West Ham star to get tight to his man and nip in with crucial interceptions (he is 8th in the league for interceptions per game this season) and challenge for every ball and Tomori covering anything that gets past Rice, Chelsea would finally have a dominant centre back duo.

West Ham have successfully staved off relegation for another season, which will considerably increase their asking price for Rice. He is thought to be valued at around £60 million, although there have been rumours of a swap deal being offered, including Barkley and Batshuayi going the other way. It is vital that Chelsea conclude this business, with other top clubs including Manchester United bound to be interested in the supremely talented 21 year old. There is the potential draw of best friend Mason Mount as well as a young, exciting squad to link up with in West London to persuade Rice to make the move to Stamford Bridge, and hopefully Roman Abromovich is able to once again dip into his deep pockets to secure the services of Rice. Just like Terry, he could become the leader of a top Chelsea side for the decade to come.

Written by Daniel New 

 

Why we have to cut our losses on Kepa

In the aftermath of Chelsea’s damaging 3-0 defeat at Bramall Lane last weekend, Lampard stated with intent: “I have learned a lot and I won’t forget that”. Chelsea put in arguably their worst performance of the Lampard era as they were schooled by a well-drilled Sheffield United. The ominous message Lampard delivered after the game seemed to be directed at individuals he felt he could no longer trust to meet his standards. No player has let down this side more than goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga this season, and should Lampard follow through on what he said, the Spanish goalkeeper will be one of the first players to leave Stamford Bridge this summer. But where did it all go wrong for our £71.6 million record signing, and is there anyway back for him from here?

Kepa did not exactly cover himself in glory in the Sheffield United game. He cannot be faulted for the first goal conceded, in fact he produced a respectable save to keep out Oli McBurnie via a deflection, but once again his ability was called into question as he was beaten at his near post for the home side’s second. Andreas Christensen’s positioning may have been amateur – allowing McBurnie a free header at goal – but Kepa remained planted to the spot, unable to produce a straight-forward stop despite being well positioned to do so. You have to look back just a week to the Crystal Palace game to spot another poor piece of goalkeeping from the former Athletic Club man, as he was unable to keep out a Wilfried Zaha rocket, which was nowhere near the top corner and was hit from an astonishing 30 yards out. These two poor showings have added to a long list of disappointing displays from Kepa this season. 

Chelsea have shipped a remarkable 49 goals in just 35 league games this season – a far cry from the 15 conceded all season in 2004/05 with Petr Cech in goal –  ranking them 11th in the league for goals conceded. However, by the expected goals table from understat (a metric which is based off the analysis of 300,000 shots, which determines the likelihood of a goal being scored from a specific scenario), Chelsea should have only conceded 39 goals – 9 fewer than in reality and the 5th best record in the league this season (behind only the Manchester clubs, Liverpool and Manchester City). From this data we can infer that Kepa’s goalkeeping has been the deciding factor between us having one of the best defensive records in the league and having a very mediocre one. It might encourage Lampard to know that his side give up relatively few high probability goal scoring opportunities, but it must concern him that when they do, they are converted at an alarming rate.

Not everyone is convinced by the expected goal system. An example of an anomaly in the system is Manchester United youngster Mason Greenwood, who has netted 9 league goals from an expected total of 3 expected goals. However, over time these numbers tend to average out, with even supreme finishers like Greenwood bound to experience less prolific spells over a much longer time frame than his 980 league minutes to date. Kepa has had the whole season to bring his expected goals against to actual goals against ratio down and yet has failed to do so.

Whilst expected goals might not be an entirely trusted metric, a sure-fire way to test shot-stopping ability is save percentage. Although it does not discriminate between the quality of shots faced, over a long period of time it is likely to give a reasonable insight into a goalkeepers ability to keep the ball out of the back of their net. Whilst we have seen spectacular stops made by Kepa, including his low dive to keep out Ben Foster’s last minute headed attempt against Watford, as well as his triple save against Liverpool in the FA Cup in March, his overall shot-stopping has been horrific. In fact, the Spaniard has the worst save percentage of goalkeepers to have made more than 5 starts in the league this season. His horrendous save percentage of 56.5% is a whole 7.3% worse than the next weakest number 1 goalkeeper in the league, Jordan Pickford. This means that close to every other shot on target results in a goal for opposition attacks, a truly morbid statistic for Chelsea fans. 

One of Kepa’s supposed strengths when he was brought to the club was his distribution. With first Sarri and now Lampard keen to build play from the back, it was vital Chelsea had a goalkeeper in place who was comfortable with the ball at his feet. Last season, Kepa ranked joint second for Premier League goalkeepers for proportion of passes played short, his 61% putting him level with Alisson and behind only Ederson (76%). To give credit where credit is due, the Spaniard has completed an impressive 79.7% of his passes this season, only 5% behind Alisson and 7% behind Ederson. It might be useful to know that potential targets to replace Kepa in the future, Nick Pope and Dean Henderson, have completed only 36.2% and 36.4% of their passes respectively. Lampard is clearly keen to put his faith in a goalkeeper who wants the ball at their feet to help start attacks with precise, short passes as opposed to booting the ball long for a target man, and if Henderson or Pope were to come in it could take them a long time to adjust to this system and even approach Kepa’s ball playing ability. 

Being comfortable with the ball at your feet might be of growing importance to the modern goalkeeper, however, other attributes of a goalkeeper’s game are clearly more important, such as shot-stopping and ability to claim crosses. Kepa struggles with both. He is never going to be the most commanding presence in his area due to his lack of height: he stands at only 1.86m tall, 6cm shorter than compatriot David de Gea, 5cm shorter than Alisson and a couple of centimetres smaller than both Jan Oblak and Ederson. However, that is no excuse for his lack of ability to deal with any kind of cross. This chink in his armour exposed against West Ham in our 3-2 defeat a couple of weeks ago, as he raced out to try and claim a deep, in-swinging corner inside his 6-yard box, only to get stuck behind N’Golo Kanté and left stranded for Tomas Soucek to head home (having already harshly had a goal from a corner ruled out, with Kepa left hopelessly flapping for that attempt as well). 

Kepa was left in no man’s land after failing to collect a corner, leading to West Ham’s equaliser, photo credit: The Sun

His haplessness when it comes to claiming crosses is highlighted when it comes to set pieces. A league high 8.2% of the corners Chelsea concede result in goals, almost double the next worse rate of 4.8% by Man City (and is the second worst rate in Europe’s top 5 leagues). This horrendous record is not solely down to Kepa, as he hasn’t been helped out by Chelsea’s poor enforcement of zonal marking, or the bizarre decision making which has led to Kanté marking Van Dijk and Azpilicueta marking the 1.92m tall Soucek, who is 14cm taller than him. However, the lack of confidence Kepa has in his ability to claim corners delivered into his six yard box means he often doesn’t attempt to catch or punch the ball, leading to opposition strikers getting efforts on goal from point-blank range, which inevitably result in goals. 

Kepa’s failings between the sticks saw Lampard make the brave call of dropping the most expensive goalkeeper of all time to the bench, making the decision after his number one somehow let a low shot from Arsenal right back Hector Bellerin from outside the box dribble into his bottom corner in January. Willy Caballero, our 38 year old back-up keeper, was brought in in his place for five key fixtures, including the last 16 Champions League tie with Bayern Munich. The Argentinian veteran didn’t fare any better than his Spanish teammate (in fact his save percentage was a staggeringly low 53%) but Lampard made a point to the board: Kepa needed replacing. Solid performances before the season’s break, including back-to-back clean sheets against Liverpool and Everton, built up some good credit with fans, but that quickly dissipated, with the Blues conceding 10 goals in 6 games from just 21 shots on target following the restart!

Finally, an article about Kepa would not be complete without reference to his incredible antics in last season’s league cup final. With extra-time drawing to an end and a penalty shootout looming, Sarri decided to take off his cramp-stricken keeper in place of penalty saving specialist Caballero. However, the Spaniard refused to leave the pitch, prompting mass hysteria from the Chelsea bench and ultimately massively undermining the Sarri’s authority. To make matters worse, Kepa failed to keep out a very tame Sergio Agüero spot kick as Chelsea lost the shootout. The disrespect Kepa showed that day did nothing to enhance his reputation with Chelsea fans following a very difficult start to life in London, and matters have only regressed since. Things could have worked out so differently though, had our chief transfer target of the summer 2018 window been brought in.

Kepa’s refusal to be substituted off signalled the beginning of the end for Sarri at Chelsea , photo credit: 101greatgoals.com

When Chelsea missed out on the signature of Alisson, and with Courtois forcing a move to Real Madrid, the club seemed to rush into buying a goalkeeper. Kepa was signed for a world record fee, with Chelsea triggering his enormous release clause and offered him a huge seven-year contract. At this stage selling Kepa would result in a massive loss on the initial investment in him, but according to sportrac.com, the Spaniard’s wages eat up £7,800,000 a year, and keeping him on the books for the remainder of his contract would cost a gigantic £39 million between now and 2025. The club have to come to terms with the fact that they have made a very costly mistake and try and move the hapless goalkeeper on. With potential interest from Valencia and Sevilla over a return to La Liga on an initial 2 year-long loan with an obligation to buy, Marina Granovskaia needs to once again work her magic to force as much money out of Kepa’s sale as she can. In the current pandemic-hit market, Chelsea would do well to recoup even a third of the gigantic sum they splashed out on Kepa, but at this point he needs to be sold and replaced. 

Lampard has given his number one plenty of time to make an impression, bringing him back following his spell on the bench, but he has yet to be rewarded by his keeper. Chelsea’s defensive woes have been our Achilles heel this season and Kepa has been central to the problem. If we are to mount a sustained title challenge over the next few seasons, we will need a far more accomplished custodian in goal, otherwise we will likely let our most promising side since the 2012 vintage drift into mediocrity. 

Written by Daniel New

 

The Willian Saga

Willian has long been Chelsea’s ‘marmite player’. Years before Jorginho came in and challenged the Brazilian for his title of the most divisive player at the club, Willian was either loved or hated by most fans, with very few sitting on the fence. With a potential reunion between the man who ‘hates Tottenham’ and Jose Mourinho in North London this summer, I will try and give a breakdown on Willian’s time at Stamford Bridge, and whether or not we could see him stay past this summer.

Having reportedly turned down an offer of a two year contract extension, telling Esporte Interativo that he wanted ‘three more years’ at the club, Willian is free to find a new team come the season’s end. The interview, given after the Bayern Munich game in March, angered Chelsea fans worldwide. Club legends, such as John Terry and Frank Lampard, were only offered one year contract extensions after turning 30 – due to club policy – and now that the board has eased its stance for Willian, they had been rejected. In a column written for The Players Tribune, the Brazilian said, “If you ask my wife if she wants to leave London, she’ll say no”. This has led to him being linked with two of Chelsea’s biggest rivals, Arsenal and Spurs, so clearly Willian is a man in demand. After his most productive season in blue to date, why would so many fans be keen to see the back of him?

Well, despite numerous incredible displays, most notably against Barcelona; where he hit the post twice before scoring in a 1-1 UCL last 16 tie in 2018, tempting the Catalan giants to make a £50 million bid for the then 29 year old, which was promptly rejected. An excellent performance against Spurs earlier in the season will also be fondly remembered by many fans. In fact, Willian has long been the scourge of our London rivals, not only did he score both goals in our 2-0 away win over them in December, but he also backed out of a seemingly agreed switch to White Hart Lane in order to join Chelsea. However, Willian’s Chelsea career has been tarnished by an incredible inconsistency. The forward has posted an underwhelming 74 goal contributions in 230 league appearances, at a rate of one every 3 games. For context, his predecessor in the number 10 shirt, Eden Hazard, racked up a huge 146 goal contributions in 245 league games, at a rate nearly double that of Willian.

Willian’s 2 goal destruction of Spurs earlier this season earned him some good will from Chelsea fans, photo credit: irishtimes.com

Another aspect of the Brazilian’s character which has not endeared him to fans was his attitude towards Antonio Conte. Immediately after the 2018 FA Cup final victory over Manchester United, Willian uploaded an image to his social media accounts of the trophy presentation, edited so that the Italian manager’s face was covered by emojis. He insisted his daughter had done it without his knowledge. Such pettiness didn’t go down well with Chelsea supporters, with the popular Conte sacked a few weeks later only a year on from his incredible league success. 

However, despite all of the negativity surrounding previous antics, there is a reason that Chelsea offered Willian a two year contract. He has proved to be an extremely valuable player this season, regularly starting in the 3rd youngest squad in the league (with an average age of 25.3 years). Azpilicueta, Kanté and the Brazilian are the only players aged over 28 to start more than half of the league games played so far this season, building an experienced spine to Lampard’s youthful side. Despite his advancing years, the Brazilian has managed to start 25 of the available 33 league games, notching up an impressive 9 goals and 5 assists (including 3 penalties). Statistically this has been his most productive season in front of goal for the Blues already, beating his 13 goal contributions in the 2017/18 campaign. With Callum Hudson-Odoi and Christian Pulisic struggling for fitness for large parts of the season, Willian has stepped up and dragged Chelsea through some tough encounters. But does his form this season mean he deserves a three year contract extension?

Chelsea have been aggressive in the market, sealing deals for both Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner before the transfer window has opened. Both recruits are extraordinarily talented, and – unfortunately for Willian – are able to play on the wing. Although Werner is naturally a number 9 or a second striker, he has adapted his game to make darting runs in from the left flank, helping him to bag a phenomenal 36 goal contributions in 34 Bundesliga start this term. Ziyech, meanwhile, is a more natural winger, playing mainly on the right flank and cutting in to provide 6 goals and 13 assists from 21 league outings. With Christian Pulisic in extraordinary form and Hudson-Odoi a hugely talented youngster waiting for his chance, Willian would probably find himself to be a bit-part player at best next season. He is clearly a player with huge self-confidence, and doesn’t appear to be happy to sit on the bench. Could this push him towards the exit door?

Despite all of his talent, Willian hasn’t always produced on the pitch, with off-field antics not helping him endear himself to fans, photo credit: The Independent

It is worth noting that Willian has performed admirably this season, not just in terms of goal output. He tops the squad for key passes, creating an average of 1.9 chances every league game, as well as sitting third for dribbles, with 1.8 completed every game. He also draws more fouls than anyone in the squad (1.3 per game), and gives the ball away less than half as often as other key winger Pulisic. The fact that he has accumulated the fourth most playing minutes in the league for us this season demonstrates how highly rated he is by the manager, and should we lose him this summer it is clear that whoever starts on the wings next season has big boots to fill. 

Finally, when debating whether or not Willian should stay, it is vital to note his incredible work rate. Our 2015/16 Player (and Players’ Player) of the season, has managed the most tackles and interceptions of any of our attacking players to have started at least 5 league games, with an average of 1.9 in the league this season. This demonstrates his willingness to track back down the right flank and support whoever plays at right back. Whilst his inconsistent application – unless a new contract is up for grabs! – of his obvious talent frustrates all Chelsea fans, his effort and passion cannot be called into question.

Whenever Willian leaves it will naturally be to a mixed reception. Some will remember him at his electric best, others will remember him for constantly hitting the first man at corners, but there is no doubting how crucial he has been to Chelsea this season. With a three year contract unlikely to be offered – Willian would be pushing 35 by the time it runs out – and talents like Tino Anjorin pushing for first team minutes, it could be for the best that Willian leaves. He could probably be useful as an impact substitution, with his pace causing problems late on against weary defenders, but it is unlikely that he would be happy to fill such a role. Whatever your opinions on Willian, we can all be thankful that he signed a short-term extension in order to see out the rest of the season, when others would have looked after their own self-interests and left at the end of June. The Brazilian’s goals may still fire Chelsea to Champions League qualification, so for the rest of the season we should all get behind our number 10. After all, Spurs may have bought his flight, but…

Willian, he saw the light

He got the call from Abramovich

And off he went to Stamford Bridge

He hates Tottenham, he hates Tottenham

He hates Tottenham and he hates Tottenham!

Written by Daniel New 

What does Kanté’s move to a holding midfielder mean for Lampard’s system going forwards?

Image Source: Daily Mail

When Chelsea kicked off against Aston Villa following the break in the 2019/20 season, there was one selection more than any other that raised eyebrows. It wasn’t the inclusion of Ruben Loftus-Cheek on the left wing, or even Olivier Giroud ahead of the fit-again Tammy Abraham at centre forward: it was N’Golo Kanté playing as a holding midfielder. To many casual fans, this has always been his strongest position, but in reality he hasn’t played there since the disastrous 3-0 defeat at the Emirates in September 2016, when Mesut Özil gave him a torrid time (after the match Antonio Conte famously changed to a 3-4-3 formation which won Chelsea the league, with Kanté crucial in a midfield pivot). Subsequently the Frenchman has started against Manchester City, Leicester and West Ham in the same position. So what does this tactical shift mean going forwards for Frank Lampard’s side?

When Lampard was unveiled as the new Chelsea manager back in the summer of 2019, he was asked whether he knew where he would play Kanté this season, replying, “yeah I do, thankfully”. Following the switch to a 4-3-3 from a 3-4-3 after the appointment of Maurizio Sarri in 2018, Kanté was shifted from his preferred role in a midfield pivot to a more attacking-minded number 8 in a midfield three, a move which angered fans and caused debates around the footballing world. So everyone was keen to see what Lampard thought his best position was, and from the answer he gave, many inferred that Lampard would play him in a pivot. However, following the 4-0 opening day drubbing by Manchester United (Kanté was only fit enough to come off the bench) where Chelsea played a midfield pivot in a 4-5-1, Lampard has reverted to the 4-3-3 preferred by his predecessor, and in doing so has played Kanté in the same role.

Whilst Sarri was maligned for his use of Kanté as a number 8, fans have been more lenient with club legend Lampard, and have even warmed to Jorginho thanks to his good relationship with the manager. The Italian had been played as a number 6 flanked by Kovacic and Kanté in the last campaign under Sarri, and Lampard has regularly used the same midfield three this term when all three have been available for selection. However, as the season has worn on it has grown clear that Jorginho does not possess the necessary speed and tackling ability to screen a porous Chelsea backline. This has been demonstrated by him picking up a huge 10 bookings in just 26 appearances this term, the joint highest figure in the league. He often brings down opposition players due to his inability to catch up and get goal-side of them: last season his top speed of 18.88 miles per hour ranked him as the slowest midfielder to rack up more than 1,000 league minutes. Kanté is comparatively rapid, clocking top speeds of 21.47 miles per hour in 2017, and so is able to stifle fast opposition forwards. 

The Frenchman is an expert at making discrete tactical fouls to slow down opposition counter-attacks, only picking up 22 yellow cards for his 217 fouls in the Premier League to date, compared to his Italian teammate’s 18 yellows over 58 fouls (a rate of 9.9 tackles per booking compared to 3.1 respectively). This ability to break up fast break-aways without picking up suspensions is key, and it is a trait Pep Guardiola appreciates, with Fernandinho encouraged to make fouls on the half-way line to stop opponent’s attacks and allow his side to regroup. 

Kanté’s speed perfectly combines with his tackling technique, potentially making him one of the world’s best holding players, photo credit: squawka.com

While Jorginho’s figure of 4.4 tackles and interceptions on average per game is very good for a holding midfielder, he is still dribbled past a huge 1.7 times per game, a figure which rises to 2.7 in the Champions League this season, as he clearly struggles to cope with the pace of opposition attackers. No one in the Chelsea squad has been dribbled past more this season, and for context, Kanté has been dribbled past 0.9 times per game this term. This may in part be due to him playing in a slightly different position, but the 29 year old is clearly tougher to get past, using his speed and guile to keep up with opponents and nick the ball off them.

So if Kanté is so much more effective as a holding midfielder, why are we only just starting to see him being deployed there? The answer comes down to positional discipline. He has always been given a ‘search-and-destroy’ brief when playing in a midfield duo, allowing him the freedom to charge around dispossessing opponents regularly, whilst his partner( Drinkwater or Matic) sat deep and shielded the defence in his absence. However, we have seen a different side to Kanté since the restart, and the Manchester City game showed how far he has come. With City dominating possession, keeping 65% of it, Kanté held firm and regularly thwarted opposition moves in the final third. A perfect example of this was when he cleverly cut out an attempted pass to David Silva by Kevin de Bruyne, before sliding it into Willian on the right, with the counter-attack he set in motion culminating in a penalty from which Willian sealed the three points. 

When Jorginho followed Sarri to Chelsea, he was given the responsibility of being the team’s heart-beat from a holding midfield role. The Italian is renowned across Europe for his distribution, and Chelsea had to beat Manchester City to his signature. With a monstrous 84.3 passes per game last season – second only to Laporte for passes per game in the league – it was clear Jorginho’s role was to set the rhythm of Chelsea’s monotonous attacking phases. Yet he didn’t manage an assist. For all of his passing ability, a staggering 46% of his passes were classed as regressive last season (they were sent backwards) and so the illusion that he would be at the centre of Chelsea’s forward play was dented. Even so, Jorginho still contributed creatively and was unlucky not to register more assists, potentially due to the consistently underperforming Gonzalo Higuaín playing up front. Kanté is often regarded as a less accomplished passer than Jorginho, and that may be true, but his 1.3 chances created per game is much more impressive than his teammates 0.8 this season. 

Although there is a debate to be had over whether Jorginho is more creative than Kanté, moving the Frenchman to a holding midfield role frees up a place for more offensive-minded number 8s on either side of him. Whereas when Jorginho plays one of the other midfield three will likely be Kanté, if the World Cup winner plays deeper then Lampard can play two of Mason Mount, Mateo Kovačić, Ruben Loftus-Cheek or Ross Barkley with him. With Kanté’s extraordinary speed and endurance, as well as his incredible tackling ability (peaking at 3.7 tackles per game in the 2017/18 season, the third most in the league that season), Lampard may have more freedom to play two advanced 8s. This would squash any concerns about a lack of creativity in the side, as Mount, Barkley and Kovacic all create more chances per game than Jorginho. 

A huge concern for Lampard has been a startling lack of goals from midfield this season. If we remove penalty goals (Jorginho is arguably the best spot-kick taker in the league and has bagged 3 this season), we have managed a measly 11 goals from our midfielders this term, and 6 of them have come from the boots of Mason Mount! For comparison, Man City’s midfielders have bagged 24 goals, and so it is clear to see why Lampard is desperate for our midfielders to carry some more of the goal-scoring responsibility for Chelsea. 21-year-old Mount is only going to improve his scoring record under the tutelage of the finest midfield goal-scorer of all time, and Loftus-Cheek proved to be an excellent marksman last season as he racked up 6 goals in 24 league appearances. Throw in consistent game time for Ross Barkley and we suddenly have a more diverse outlay of goals and won’t depend as heavily on our front three.

Kanté is not the greatest progressive passer in the side, with Jorginho and Gilmour more adept at playing balls into the final third. He often takes the safe option and exchanges passes with the back 4, but against pressing opponents like Liverpool and Manchester City, such calm ball retention is key to gaining a foothold in the game. With creators all around him, Kanté could begin to mould himself into more of a Claude Makélélé type player, screening his back four diligently, before starting attacks with an intelligent, yet safe, forwards pass. Makélélé had the extremely attack-minded Lampard beside him in a pivot, and still helped Chelsea to concede a meagre 15 league goals in the 2004/05 campaign. If Kanté could follow suit, our defence would suddenly look a lot more sound, even before improvements at centre back and left back are brought in. 

Makélélé was so effective he has a position named after him, and Kanté could emulate his fellow Frenchman in a holding role, photo credit: premierleague.com

There is also the possibility that Lampard could alternate between Kanté and one of Jorginho and Gilmour in the holding midfield role, dependent on the opponent and their style. For example, against a low block who do not press, such as Aston Villa, it might be useful to have a more adept progressive passer at number 6, as there is an emphasis on breaking down the opposition. However, when playing teams in the top half who tend to press aggressively, N’Golo Kanté looks set to start in the future, and after what we have seen of him in a number 6 role so far, this seems a smart move by Lampard.

Kanté is still only 29 years of age, and his illustrious countryman Makélélé managed to play at a high level for Chelsea up to the age of 35. This means Lampard has an extremely strong base off which he can build a team for the next half-decade. With his incredible physical attributes, his clever tactical fouls and wonderful ability to win the ball, Kanté could be the perfect holding midfielder in Lampard’s 4-3-3. After some work on his distribution and positional discipline he could be orchestrating a Chelsea side to major silverware in the very-near future. Having silenced questions about his ability following a difficult start to the season, Kanté has reinvented himself in a new role, and it could prove to be fundamental to Chelsea’s success over the coming years!

Written by Daniel New

Why Olivier Giroud will be crucial in the run-in and beyond

With a pirouette and a sweep of his right boot, Olivier Giroud once again proved to Frank Lampard how vital a role he will play in the remainder of this campaign, and potentially next season as well. His sweetly struck winner against Aston Villa on Sunday was his 3rd goal in 6 Premier League starts this season, and demonstrated his ability to find the net when Chelsea need him the most. With Chelsea embarking on a run of 9 league games in just 35 days following the season’s resumption, the Frenchman can expect plenty more game time, and Chelsea fans can expect plenty more high-quality showings from the World Cup winner.

Giroud has stepped up when needed by Chelsea yet again last weekend, striking a crucial winner against Aston Villa. Photo credit: The Guardian

Entering the season there was uncertainty over who would start in the centre forward berth for Chelsea. Young Tammy Abraham, however, made the role his own, with an impressive run of 7 league goals in 3 appearances before the September international break, leaving Olivier Giroud in the cold. A remarkable run of 10 consecutive games without being included in the match day squad either side of the turn of the year illustrated how out of favour the 33 year old was in Lampard’s plans. Below the struggling Michy Batshuayi in the pecking order, and with noise growing about a rumoured move to Serie A in January, how has Giroud so rapidly made himself almost indispensable to the club?

After scoring in Chelsea’s routine 3-0 win over Burnley in January, the strain of carrying Chelsea’s attack in his debut season seemed to catch up with Abraham. Up until then there had been occasional knocks, with Batshuayi deputising in his place, until Tammy was left out of the match day squad for the game against Manchester United in February. Batshuayi missed two gilt-edged chances, leading to him passing up the starting centre forward role to Giroud, and the Frenchman has started all 4 league games since, scoring an impressive 3 times and cementing himself in Lampard’s plans.

Even after such fine form it was a surprise to many that Giroud started ahead of his young English teammate against Aston Villa. The Frenchman presumably was chosen for his ability with his back to goal, an area he is arguably the best in the world in, as Villa’s extremely low block would require an awful lot of linkup play to unpick. Giroud duly obliged, putting in a vintage display. He managed to win 5 aerial duels as he successfully fought off the huge centre back pairing of Kortney Hause and Tyrone Mings. He also won 3 fouls, proving how much of a handful he can be to opposition defences. His sharp touches and intricate passes were evident throughout, most noticeably when he played a key part in the build up to his goal: exchanging a nice one-two with Mount on the edge of Villa’s area before cleverly pulling back from marker Hourihane, receiving the ball from Azpilicueta, turning, and firing in via a slight deflection. 

Not only will Giroud be useful for sharing minutes with Abraham as the games come thick and fast, he could also be selected ahead of his teammate against the low block defences Chelsea often face. With three games against bottom-half opposition, Giroud could prove to be the key to unlocking stingy defences. As mentioned, his hold up play is outstanding, and he averages 3.1 aerial duels won per game, slightly better than Abraham’s 3, which could help when Chelsea need someone to take down quick cross-field balls as they look to create an over-load down one flank. His now legendary flicks and tricks could also be vital when providing the killer touch to undo a congested defensive line, something Tammy has struggled with at times this season.

Abraham and Giroud could share minutes with fixtures coming thick and fast, photo credit: We Ain’t Got No History

Marina Granovskaia – a Chelsea director and Abramovich’s number 2 – moved quickly this summer to secure Giroud to a one-year contract extension. Although many saw this as a safety net for both player and club given the uncertain market in the wake of the global pandemic, it could prove to be a wise move on the pitch too. With Werner arriving at Stamford Bridge next season, he will join Abraham and Giroud as extremely capable number 9s battling for game time. However, at RB Leipzig Werner has been played in a two man strike partnership in 26 of his 33 Bundesliga appearances this season , often paired with the 6 foot 3 inch tall Yussuf Poulsen. The big Danish striker is essentially a more limited version of Giroud, played to win aerial duels and to facilitate Werner’s darting runs from the left. Either Giroud or Abraham could play in a centre forward duo with the German, or as a number 9 with Werner cutting in from the left wing next season, in which case Giroud could be essential if Abraham is injured or lacking form. Even though the Frenchman turns 34 in September, it is clear to see how important he is to this Chelsea squad, especially if they go deep in numerous competitions next term.

Not only has he impressed on the pitch, Giroud has also displayed an extraordinary mentality this year. When faced with transfer speculation in the January window, he didn’t force his way out of the club or hand in a transfer request, and when he didn’t get a move away he didn’t complain. Instead, being the model professional he is, he got his head down and worked hard to show Lampard what he was missing. Ultimately his goals have been worth 4 points since then (with vital strikes in 2-1 wins over Spurs and Villa) and by the end of the season that could prove to be the difference between making and missing out on a lucrative Champions League spot. His mentality and pedigree is so inspirational that it is worth having him around, not only to play, but also to pass on his experience to our current crop of youngsters so they can learn from one of the most accomplished players in the league.

With Champions League qualification on the line in a frantic run-in, Giroud could play a vital role in securing Chelsea a spot in next season’s elite European competition. He could also stick around next season and help the transition of Lampard’s young squad from also-rans to title challengers. Not bad for someone who seemed finished at Chelsea earlier this year! We should all be grateful for the Frenchman’s service, and appreciate him for staying put in difficult circumstances. Hopefully he hangs around for a little longer.

Written by Daniel New

Could Abraham and Werner be the new Drogba and Anelka?

When Nicolas Anelka arrived at Stamford Bridge in the January transfer window of 2008, it seemed to the world that he was joining as competition to – or potentially as a replacement for – the great Didier Drogba. With the Ivorian forward sulking after the departure of his mentor, Jose Mourinho (even going so far as to tell France Football Magazine that he wanted to ‘leave Chelsea’), it seemed inevitable that in the summer of 2008 he would join the ‘special one’ at Inter Milan. However, Drogba stayed and, after the arrival of Carlo Ancelotti in 2009, formed a lethal partnership with Anelka, one which would fire Chelsea to the first league and cup double in the club’s history. With Timo Werner set to join the Blues this summer, and with new number 9 Tammy Abraham stalling on signing a new contract, we now have a similar situation on our hands. Will Tammy be replaced and shown the exit door, or will he push his game on to new levels and form a deadly duo with his new German teammate, just as Drogba and Anelka did just over a decade ago?

Tammy and Timo could prove to be a deadly duo

The similarities between the situations in 2008 and the present don’t end at a potentially disgruntled Chelsea striker being joined by a world class forward. Much has been made this season of Tammy’s likeness to his hero, Didier Drogba. Both are able to lead the line on their own magnificently well, use their 6 foot plus frames to bully defenders and play superbly with their backs to goal. They both hold up and link play with ease as well. The other half of both partnerships also bear a resemblance, with Werner and Anelka both possessing extraordinary speed and looking to cut in from the wings to attack opposition defences. Surely it is written in the stars that Tammy and Timo can emulate their great predecessors?

Before Chelsea fans can even comprehend a long-lasting partnership between Tammy and Timo, there is the small issue of the former’s contract quickly running down. With 2 years left on his current deal and negotiations between him and the club coming to a stand-still, this is a potentially pivotal period in Tammy’s career. Inheriting the Chelsea number 9 shirt following a long list of disappointing predecessors – with the last great striker to don the shirt arguably Jimmy Hasselbaink in the early noughties (sorry Fernando!) – Abraham has been able to banish the supposed ‘curse’ that haunted those before him, netting 13 goals and providing 3 assists in just 23 league starts! Lampard knows how crucial a player like Tammy is to Chelsea: someone in the Drogba and Costa mould is hard to find and, now that we have someone who fits the bill, the manager surely won’t be looking to let him go. But whether Tammy feels valued by the club due to a refusal to match his wages to the currently much less impactful Hudson-Odoi, or whether he feels threatened by Werner’s arrival in his position, it could prove difficult convincing him to stay on at Stamford Bridge.

When Anelka joined a Chelsea side in chaos following the departure of legendary coach Jose Mourinho, he was played out of position as first Avram Grant and then Luiz Felipe Scolari persisted with the 4-3-3 formation which had served Chelsea so well, with Anelka crowbarred in on the right wing. The Frenchman was able to play in his natural centre forward berth for much of the 2008/09 season, with Drogba missing 13 league matches through injury and suspension, and duly netted 19 goals to secure the Premier League golden boot. It took a brave man in Carlo Ancelotti to pair the clearly formidable Anelka and Drogba up front together – in a 4-4-2 diamond formation – and Chelsea went on to win the league title, scoring a league record 103 goals in the process, of which 29 were struck by Drogba and 11 by Anelka. So, will Lampard follow Ancelotti’s lead and play a centre forward duo next season?

How Chelsea could line up next season, with Tammy and Timo in a centre forward duo. Photo credit: LINEUP11

In the decade following Ancelotti’s tenure at the Bridge, the English game has noticeably moved away from 2 striker formations, with a lone striker and inverted wingers being preferred by almost every club in the league. In fact, this season only Everton (with Ancelotti at the helm), Burnley, Bournemouth and Brighton tend to play with two centre forwards regularly. It could be an option, however, if Lampard decides to pair Tammy and Werner together. The German has played in a centre forward duo in 25 of his 32 league games this term, often playing with Yussuf Poulson, the 6 foot 3 Danish international, or more recently Patrick Schick. Poulson is similar to Tammy in that they’re both the same height, and use their physical advantage to win aerial duels regularly, the difference being that Poulson is played in order to facilitate his more talented teammate. Should Tammy play alongside Werner, he could hold up the ball before linking with his teammate to deadly effect. The Poulson-Werner duo has worked remarkably well, with 31 league goals between them this season so far. Playing with a much more able partner in Tammy Abraham could push this goal output to extraordinary levels.

However, it is more likely that Werner will be direct competition to Tammy, or that he will play off his left, in a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formation. This would allow the rapid German to cut inside from the wing either with the ball or to latch onto a defence splitting pass. Having previously been a solely counter-attacking option, he has improved his game to break down low-block defences under the tutelage of RB Leipzig coach Julian Nagelsmann. The young manager is keen to play a possession-based brand of football, with Leipzig averaging 53.7% of possession in the league this season (roughly the same as Chelsea’s 57%), forcing Werner to alter his game suitably. He now drops deeper to win possession before building up steam on a characteristic dribble or playing a quick pass, bypassing the opposition press. To demonstrate the changes made to his game we can look at his statistics: he has doubled his chance creation (key passes) numbers from 0.8 in 2017/18 to 1.6 per game this season and more than doubled his dribbles in the same time period from 0.8 to 1.8 per game. This makes Werner a more rounded threat than he was a couple of seasons ago, as he can add creativity and dynamic dribbles to his already superb finishing (his shot conversion rate is currently at 27.6% compared to the mighty Lewandowski’s 22.3%) and electric pace. Thanks to Nagelsmann’s input and Werner’s work ethic, Chelsea are buying one of the most complete forwards in Europe. 

How Chelsea could line up next season in Lampard’s preferred 4-2-3-1, with Timo cutting in from a wide left position. Photo credit: LINEUP11

Werner may occupy the opposite flank to Anelka naturally, cutting in off the left as opposed to Anelka’s favoured right, but given the two share similar skill sets it is easy to compare them. Anelka managed 10 assists in the 2009/10 campaign when paired with Drogba, whilst completing 1 key pass on average per match. Given Werner’s superior chance creation skills it is easy to see that the German could provide Tammy with a deluge of incredible chances. Abraham has demonstrated his phenomenal footballing intelligence this season, making incredible runs into dangerous areas, and so he is the perfect foil to Werner, latching onto his teammates pinpoint passes. However, the 22 year old has missed 17 big chances this season (most memorably against Liverpool in our 2-1 home defeat when one-on-one with Adrián), the third most in the league. With some finishing practise with the clinical Werner and goal-scoring icon Frank Lampard in training, Tammy could easily double his goal tally next season as he is driven on to greater heights by his illustrious teammate!

Timo Werner’s 2019/20 heat map illustrates his preference to cut in from the left wing, perhaps indicating that he’d be comfortable playing on the left wing at Chelsea. Photo credit: totalfootballanalysis.com

With two elite forwards pushing each other to be the best they can be, comparisons between Tammy and Timo with Anelka and Drogba are inevitable. Whilst Lampard must still convince Tammy to sign a new long-term deal, this partnership could be one of the greatest in Premier League history. A two centre forward formation could be bought back to facilitate the duo, but even if Chelsea line up with Tammy as a number 9 and Werner playing off his left – cutting in to create chances, making runs in behind the defence, and finish opportunities – we could still see this partnership blossom. With Hakim Ziyech also arriving to add to our wing options of Pulisic and Hudson-Odoi, Chelsea arguably have one of the best attacking units in Europe, and key to it will be the linkup between Tammy and Timo. With memories of the 2009/10 season fresh in Chelsea fan’s hearts, it is time to make room for a new attacking duo as we watch our new forwards tear up the league and hunt much sought after silverware for Chelsea!

Written by Daniel New

Who is generational talent Kai Havertz, and why should Chelsea go all out to sign him?

For months, the talk surrounding football has largely been of the huge effect that the current global pandemic will have on the market. Supposedly even the biggest teams would have to scale back on their usual splurges, forced to be stingy by the potential loss of broadcasting revenue as well as the lack of any match day income. In total, Deloitte have predicted Premier League sides alone could lose up to £1 billion over two seasons as a result of the pandemic. However, it seems like one owner didn’t get the memo. Having stolen Timo Werner from underneath Liverpool’s nose by activating his £53 million release clause when the Reds were unable to, it seems that Roman Abramovich could attempt to prise away another of Liverpool’s supposed targets, and one of the Bundesliga’s brightest talents in Kai Havertz. This spending spree, which will also probably include a left back in either Ben Chilwell or Nicolás Tagliafico, in a time where other clubs are faltering, could set up Chelsea to be a force to be reckoned with over the next 5-10 years. And Havertz could be the star.

Photo credit: 90Min

The return of elite football arrived earlier in Germany than the rest of Europe, causing a new audience to flock to watch the Bundesliga in search of their football fix. With the spotlight seemingly firmly fixed on Jadon Sancho, Erling Haaland and Robert Lewandowski as Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich fought for the title, it was Kai Havertz who stole it. He has long attracted interest from European powerhouses, with Liverpool and Bayern Munich seemingly chief amongst them, but his back-to-back braces in the opening two games following the forced break in the season showcased his talents on a much larger scale, perhaps prompting Abramovich to amp up his pursuit of him.

Before we dive into the youngster’s incredible stats, it is worth discussing his personality. When making a big money move to the Premier League, having a strong mentality is essential. As the British media wait for you to slip up spectacularly, you have to shut out the outside world and hit the ground running. Despite still being 20 years old, Havertz is in his 4th season of regular game time at Bayer Leverkusen. Making his Bundesliga debut at the age of just 17 years and 126 days old (at the time making him the club’s youngest ever league debutant), he has shown remarkable mental strength to earn his place and keep it from such a young age and with such media attention focussed on him. More impressive still is the fact that he has led Leverkusen as captain on 5 occasions this season in the absence of club captain Lars Bender, going further towards proving that he truly is an old head on young shoulders.

Photo credit: Metro

However, the most encouraging aspect of Havertz’s mental make-up is his ability to keep going in the face of adversity. He came into this season with the pressure of having to follow up a 17 goal haul in 2018/19 (with 4 assists to his name as well, despite him playing as a midfielder/winger), and initially struggled. In fact, he only netted twice between the start of the season and 2020, with those goals coming across 14 league starts. The media scrutiny that follows a superb breakthrough season looked to be getting to him, but the German persisted and has dramatically turned his form around. Having scored in the first game back after the winter break, he has amassed a huge 9 goals and 4 assists in 12 appearances so far in 2020, making him the Bundesliga’s third top scorer since the turn of the year, behind only Lewandowski and Haaland! It is clear that Havertz can handle the burden of huge expectation, which will be vital if he is to join Chelsea in a big money move. So, he can handle the psychological aspect of the game, but how is he with the ball at his feet?

Not only is Havertz’s goal contribution haul impressive –  he has bagged 11 goals and 5 assists in 26 league appearances to date – but look closer at his underlying numbers and you will understand that his current red-hot form is no fluke. He is the fulcrum of all Leverkusen’s play; whether he is playing as a false 9, a right winger or as an attacking midfielder, and has been a crucial component of one of Germany’s most exciting offensive forces. His 2.1 chances created per league game rank him 9th in the league, and are only 0.2 fewer than Jadon Sancho, who has 11 more assists than Havertz. This implies that in a more clinical team, the German would be racking up huge assists numbers. The potential of seeing him play with the deadly Werner (who has netted 25 league goals this campaign so far), therefore, is mind-blowing for all Chelsea fans!

On top of being an elite chance creator, Havertz is also excellent at ball progression. Wherever he is playing, he will always drop deep in search of the ball and then force his team up the pitch, with his average of 46 passes per game (at an 86% completion rate) very high for an attacking player. For context, his teammate and usually the man who plays on the opposite wing to him, Moussa Diaby, makes only 20 passes per game, and the highly involved Sancho manages 48. His 2 completed dribbles every match also make for impressive reading, and are more than both Willian and Hudson-Odoi (our right wing options this term) currently average. He is also a player who will constantly make defences uncomfortable, as he naturally drifts between the defensive lines, willing to receive the ball all over the pitch, with his marker unsure of whether to be drawn out of position and follow him (opening up space behind the defensive lines for pacy players like Werner or Hudson-Odoi to exploit) or to sit back and allow Havertz to work his magic. He has the ability to take a touch and make a sensational cross-field pass, or beat his man before feeding a teammate or going alone. With such incredible match intelligence at only 20, Havertz’s potential truly is incredible.

Another facet to Havertz’s game is his aerial presence. Standing at around 6 foot 2 inches (or 1.89m) tall, he boasts a physical advantage on many central defenders, and is only 2cm shorter than Tammy Abraham. This allows him to win 1.4 aerial duels per game, behind only Abraham and Giroud (on 3.2 and 2.9 respectively) for non-defenders in the Chelsea squad. His aerial prowess has helped him bag 2 headed goals this season, the same figure as Tammy, despite only making 7 appearances as a number 9. His physique should cause opposition defenders all kinds of problems, as he is a threat from set pieces and he can hold up the ball well, which is vital in a relatively short squad (the 7th shortest in the league). He also happens to be left-footed, something none of our wingers are, and therefore could play on the right wing and cut in should Lampard require it, a trait which makes him even more desirable to the Chelsea board.

Photo credit: talkSPORT

So Havertz is a brilliant creator, a fantastic dribbler and a threat in the air, but what are his areas of weakness? Well, one aspect of his game that he could easily improve on is his shot volume: as he has managed only 1.9 shots per game this season, the 25th most in the Bundesliga. Part of the reason his average shots per game are low is that he has only recently started playing as a false 9, but even as an attacking midfielder I would expect him to get off more efforts at goal every game. For example, Mason Mount – in his first season of Premier League football – has made 2.3 attempts on goal per game as an attacking midfielder, and should continue to improve on that as he gets older. If Havertz can take more shots per game, it is only logical that more goals should follow. He is also quite regularly dispossessed, at an average rate of 2.7 times a game, which would rank joint top in the Chelsea squad with Pulisic. However, this could be because most of Leverkusen’s attacking moves go through him, and so he is bound to make a few mistakes when he is constantly trying to force openings for his team.

Having seen a breakdown of his game, we know that Havertz is a star and has huge scope to improve at only 20 years of age. Put simply, he could become a truly elite player in the future. What might concern a lot of Chelsea fans, however, is where he will fit in. With Ziyech and Werner (hopefully) due to arrive this summer, and Ruben Loftus-Cheek coming back from his lengthy injury lay-off, the competition for places will be monumental, which could push the squad on as a whole, but could also lead to some significant player departures.

The German international is capable of playing a number of roles, with his versatility another reason why he is sought after by so many sides. He is able to play as: a free number eight in a 4-3-3 (similar to how Mount plays when in central midfield), a central attacking midfielder in the hole behind the striker, a right winger, or as a centre forward. Such versatility should offset any worries about him keeping any particular player out, as Frank can move him around regularly as Peter Bosz has done this season at Leverkusen. With Ziyech and Hudson-Odoi both capable of playing on the right wing, the ideal place to play Havertz would be as a number 10 in a 4-2-3-1 behind Tammy and with Werner cutting in from the left wing. This would be a devastating attacking unit, arguably one of Europe’s best, and would make the most of Havertz’s creativity, ball progression and finishing (as he can arrive late in the box to tuck shots away).

Photo credit: talkSPORT

However, if Lampard opts for a 4-3-3, as he has tended to do this season, Havertz would be more than able to play as a number 8, perhaps with two more stable central midfielders beside him allowing him to push forwards (perhaps N’Golo Kanté and Mateo Kovačić). The possibility of a 2 striker formation has also been thrown about recently, and is something that could prove really exciting. Should we play a 4-4-2 with Tammy and Werner spearheading the attack, Havertz could possibly be paired in a midfield pivot with the ridiculous defensive shield that is N’Golo Kanté, which would allow him to get forwards regularly. Such squad selection headaches can only be a good thing for Frank Lampard, who wants his players to fight for their places, which will improve the long-standing issue of mentality and motivation in the Chelsea dressing room. We must also assume that the board are backing Frank Lampard as part of a 3 year plan (as per The Athletic) in which Chelsea are winning major honours by the conclusion of the 2022/23 season, and if Lampard has sought out Havertz and Werner, I am confident he knows exactly how he wants his side to lineup with them in next season.

Havertz has handled the pressure of being his club’s star man as a teenager, as well as being their captain, and his 59 goal contributions in 114 Bundesliga games before turning 21 is incredibly impressive. When we add in his mental toughness and ability to come back firing following a scoring drought, as well as his Champions League experience and 7 international caps for Germany (including a goal), it is clear that Havertz is a must buy. With other clubs seemingly incapable of meeting his rumoured €80-100 million valuation, Roman Abramovich could play on Havertz’s eagerness for a new challenge by being his sole realistic suitor this summer. If he manages to secure two of Europe’s most talented players in one window (not to mention Ziyech and a left back), Abramovich could create a dynasty which leads to years of Chelsea success!

Written by Daniel New