It’s safe to say that Maurizio Sarri’s first season in Chelsea has not gone according to plan. The Blues are sixth in the Premier League as the final weeks of the season near. Sarri’s philosophy has not seeped in yet, and the result has been frustrating at times, especially against the lower sides in the league. Chelsea’s failure to pick up wins against the ‘lesser’ sides has been a major reason why finishing in the top four seems like a stretch.
Chelsea have dropped 20 points against teams outside the ‘top 6’, which is easily the highest for the teams in the top 6. Manchester United have dropped 14, Arsenal have lost 12, which is the same as Spurs. These are precisely the clubs with whom Chelsea are rivalling for a top-four finish. Sarri will rue those specific games if Chelsea fail to qualify for the Champions League come May.
Chelsea have a lot of the ball…
Let’s take a look at all those games in isolation. Chelsea lost to Wolves, Everton, Leicester, and Bournemouth while drawing against Wolves, Everton, West Ham, and Southampton. One statistic which stands out from these games is the possession. Chelsea had 70.6% of the ball in these eight games, which is a lot. Their season average is 60.9%. They also made 721 passes on average in these games, compared to the 297 which their opponents managed.
Many, if not all of the opponents were content with Chelsea dominating the ball. They did not press high up the pitch and opted to maintain defensive compactness instead. Wolves mastered that gameplan two weeks ago. Chelsea had more than 75% possession and took 22 shots in that game, but had to rely on a last-minute Eden Hazard equaliser to get a 1-1 draw.
….but they fail to do much with it
Despite a high amount of possession, Chelsea don’t convert it to clear-cut chances. The Blues took 16.6 shots per games in those eight matches, compared to the 7.6 which their opponents managed. In terms of shots in the box, Chelsea edge it by 9-7. Coming to expected goals, Chelsea’s tally is 1.3, which is short of the season average of 1.61.
This tells us that despite having more of the ball, Chelsea players have to resort to taking low-quality shots more often than not. Their xG per shot in these games is 0.08, which is a terribly low number. On the other side, many teams fancy their chances against Chelsea on the counter-attack. Bournemouth demolished them on the counter when they won 4-0 back in January. When you have error-prone defenders like David Luiz and Marcos Alonso in your side, the probability of such results increases.
What can Sarri do to change it?
The opposition defence is compact and organised, so the solution is actually simple. Chelsea just have to move the ball quicker. The likes of Hazard and Willian dally on the ball often, which slows down attacking moves. The Chelsea forwards also need to be clinical, as they have been guilty of missing chances too often. Secondly, Chelsea need to be better in the defensive phase. Jorginho doesn’t track the runners effectively, and individual mistakes have cost Chelsea dear at times. Yes, that’s for you David.
Sarri would love to bring in new players who are better suited for him, but that is not possible right now. Winning the big games is important for each manager. But the performances against the other sides matter more – simply because there are more games. To have any hope of finishing in the top four, Chelsea need to amend their record in those games.
First up, Cardiff in ten days.