Friday, August 7, 2020

Are Chelsea any better under Lampard?

After ousting Mauricio Sarri at the end of the 2018/19 season for failing to produce, are Chelsea any better this season? New boss Frank Lampard has in equal measures made the press swoon, and the defence crumble in bizarre fashion.

With 3 games left in the season there is a very real possibility that the Blues could miss out on the top four, and City’s cheating appeal pending, miss out on the lucrative Champions League place for the 2020/21 season. While still in third at the moment, Chelsea could well be fifth by the next time they kick a ball in anger.

So are Chelsea any better?

So just what has gone wrong for the team that has consistently applied pressure at the top end of the table for the last 20-odd years. The loss of perenial talisman Eden Hazard has clearly had a negative impact as a breaker of tight, locked-in games. His 16 goals 15 assists from 18/19 are a distant memory.

Tammy Abraham is the top scorer this term with 14 goals, while top of the assists is Willian with just 7. While Hazard may not have turned up every game, his contribution was immense and has not been replaced. New boy Christian Pulisic has been a disappointment with basically nominal xG (-0.04) and xA (-0.93).

The decision to play Abraham over Giroud looks to have worked for Lampard. The youngster bagging an impressive fourteen goals seems like a good one for the future, although he will need to improve his xG (-3.17) if he is to develop into a top level striker. He will be pushed next season by new boy Timo Werner and his mighty +4.55 xG.

While xG is clearly not the only arbiter of a good player, consistent performances in this area are a good sign of a consistent high-level player.

Are Chlesea any better under Lampard as they get thrashed 3-0 by Sheffield United
Are Chlesea any better under Lampard as they get thrashed 3-0 by Sheffield United

In 2019/20 Chelsea have underperformed their xG as a team by a staggering 6.64, while their xGA is a whopping -9.59. All this means they scored 6 goals fewer than they should have and conceded 9 more than would be expected. So it may not be all doom and gloom.

Last season their offensive xG was flat (-0.97) and almost identical defensively (-0.89). So they scored one less than expected, and conceded one more.

How does this translate in the real world? Well this year, Chelsea have scored 4 more goals than their 2018/19 incarnations, and let in 11 more. With 7 fewer points in 2019/20, the Blues need to pull their fingers out in the final three games to avoid this season being an utter shambles.

Wait, Are Chelsea any better?

The short answer is no. They are a more attacking team, that scores less goals, but should score more. Whether you put this down to a lesser quality player on the end of the chances, or down to tactical management is personal preference.

Defensively they get much less pressure on the ball in the box. This has led to a skewed xGA that seems to show they’ve been unlucky but really the players have turned what should be average chances into much better ones. If you need to see what I mean, watch the Sheffield United goals from yesterday.

But is it Lampard’s fault? Partly, but not entirely. It’s clear the lack of summer transfers hurt Chelsea. Are Chelsea any better at the back this year with Kurt Zouma? I think that’s an obvious no.

Are Chelsea any better without Sarri?
Are Chelsea any better without Sarri?

Kepa Arrizabalaga has proven over his time in England to be equal parts disrespectful and overpriced. While Liverpool shelled out similar money for Alison, he has proven worth it, and Kepa has not.

But at the end of the day Lampard has shown a lack of willing to adjust to his teams weaknesses. It’s fair to say that in most games, Norwich away for example, you don’t need to be too obsessed with correct defensive shape and positioning. But if you continue to ignore those against the better teams, who will punish you more consistently, you will struggle.

And that’s where the “Are Chelsea any better?” question gets short-shrift. Lampard isn’t as good as Sarri. Was Sarri’s brand of football as exciting to watch? No. But last I checked style points weren’t on offer in the Premier League.

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