3 games in and Chelsea’s new season has started obscurely. One win, one draw and one loss with 4 goals scored and 7 conceded was just about as much of a headache as I was expecting the season to be, but I think the skies are finally starting to look blue now.
For this article, I’ll take a look at what we learnt from the first 3 games, what we can expect from the next 3, and who we should be buying and who we should be avoiding. Oh, and it comes with an extra serving of statistical titbits. Lovely.
Gameweeks 1 – 3 review
What a star man young Mason Mount has developed into. Having racked up the more minutes than Barkley in preseason, his high standing with Lampard continued into the new season where he’s played the full 90 in every league game this season.
In the first game of the season, versus United, his favour among Lampard earned him a start in his preferred number 10 role with Barkley placed on the left. Safe to say, whilst Mount enjoyed a decent albeit slightly uninfluential game, the setup did not work for Barkley at all and Chelsea payed the price losing 4-0.
Since then, Mount has been put in 2 other positions for the other weeks. Versus Leicester he played on the left of a midfield 3 in a 433, whilst against Norwich he started at LW again in a 433, with Barkley behind him. Despite these numerous positional changes, he has truly excelled having already picked up 2 goals in the first 3. Topping all midfielders for goal attempts so far this season, and only 1 behind the cross-positional leader (Ashley Barnes), he’s certainly not been shy to take a shot and has looked the most attacking player we have fit.
In fact, versus Norwich his average position was the most advanced of all players. Versus Leicester, he was only behind Pulisic despite, as I mentioned earlier, starting in the midfield 3. Versus United? Most advanced player. Not bad for a 6.2m midfielder at Chelsea.
A fair representation?
After the 4-0 drubbing by United many FPL managers recoiled upon seeing the scoreline, but Chelsea fans were more interested in if this was a fair representation of the game. After all, Chelsea had 18 shots to United’s 11 (though United’s attempts carried a higher weight on xG).
In reality, I’m really not sure it was a fair score. Once United got their first few goals, the Chelsea team completely capitulated and the scoreline quickly grew – but what would have happened if luck had smiled on Chelsea?
What would have happened if Abraham’s shot had been a few centimetres right and went in instead of hitting the post at 0-0? What if he’d been a step ahead and could have stretched just far enough to get on Azpilicueta’s cross? What if Emerson’s shot had snuck in, instead of hitting the post at 1-0? Of course, football is full of these permutations and speculation, but it’s something worth bearing in mind.
“At the back, defending looks optional, rendering most of the assets immediately risky.”
Sadly, not a massive amount changed. I must admit, during the Norwich game I started to get hopeful that things were changing, with both centre backs looking more secure…. until they suddenly didn’t.
The first goal came from Cantwell getting between the two CBs for a simple tap in. The second a through ball allowing Pukki in… between both CBs. Sadly, this is becoming a common theme this season, with United having ripped our backline apart with absolute ease. So far, Chelsea have conceded 7 goals in 3 games with only Norwich having conceded more which is mainly down to them having faced Chelsea and Liverpool, who are joint 2nd for goal attempts so far.
Simply, whilst I would argue that the 4-0 scoreline versus United was unfair, if Chelsea want to seriously compete in the league they have to tighten up at the back and that would need to start with the centre back pairing – more on them later.
Injured players returning
I think it’s fair to say that in all the game so far this season, including the Super Cup Final, Chelsea have looked pretty good – at least for a period. The startling thing is though, that happened with so many key players injured.
Kante missed the United game through injury and it was safe to say he was sorely missed. His presence in the Chelsea team is gigantic and his influence can never be overstated – by every definition of the word he is essential to this team. Willian is now returning to fitness but did not look up to speed in the closing minutes versus Leicester and Barkley was preferred when Pedro dropped out of the squad before Norwich – that’s a big indicator that he’s not ready in my opinion.
Hudson-Odoi, Rudiger and Reece James could all return after the international break and all could be looking to get minutes, which might heighten rotation. Hudson-Odoi takes the number of first team wingers up to 4 plus Mount. Rudiger should take one of the CB spots leaving Luiz and Christensen to compete for the other. James returns with fans calling for him to take games from the aging Azpilicueta who looked an extra degree slower versus United.
It’s all speculation right now, but speculation worth bearing in mind. With Champions League football starting up soon, Lampard might return to his high-rotation tactics that he displayed at Derby and make use of his wide array of talent to keep players fresh.
In terms of FPL – that’s a concern.
Weeks 4-6 preview
Safe to say, the next 3 games aren’t the best.
Sheffield United at Home
Last 3 games:
Sheffield United 1 – 2 Leicester
Sheffield United 1 – 0 Crystal Palace
Bournemouth 1 – 1 Sheffield United
No Meetings between the clubs since 2007
Before the season this looked a lovely fixture, but slightly less so now. Sheffield United have scored in every game they’ve played this season with their record standing at 3 goals for and 3 against. Still, with it not being immediately obvious where Sheffield United’s goals will come from, there’s a decent chance for Chelsea to pick up their first clean sheet, with the possibility of a few going in down the other end. It will be interesting to see how Chelsea set up tactically to break down a team with 5 defenders – I’ll be keenly watching to see if Pulisic can use his pace to break through the line and create some chaos that the likes of Mount could capitalise on.
Last 3 games:
Wolves 1 – 1 Burnley
Wolves 1 – 1 Manchester United
Leicester 0 – 0 Wolves
March 2019 (PL): Chelsea 1 – 1 Wolves
December 2018 (PL): Wolves 2 – 1 Chelsea
Wolves have been struggling with a bit of Europa League lethargy, much like Burnley last season. Their two key strikers, Jota and Jimenez, haven’t quite hit the form they’d want and as a result goals have looked a little hard to come by, with just a Neves wonder-strike and a (very) late penalty saving their blushes. Down the other end of the pitch though they’ve looked pretty tight.
This is the first game after the teams return from the international break, so it should be interesting to see how Wolves return after a break plus seeing Chelsea with a number of injured players returning. Would expect both teams to score here, but Wolves don’t really do high scoring games. Could well be another draw for Wolves.
Liverpool at Home
Last 3 games:
Liverpool 4 – 1 Norwich
Southampton 1 – 2 Liverpool
Liverpool 3 – 1 Arsenal
August 2019 (Super Cup): Liverpool 2 – 2 Chelsea
April 2019 (PL): Liverpool 2 – 0 Chelsea
September 2018 (PL): Chelsea 1 – 1 Liverpool
September 2018 (EFL Cup): Liverpool 1 – 2 Chelsea
May 2018 (PL): Chelsea 1 – 0 Liverpool
November 2017 (PL): Liverpool 1 – 1 Chelsea
Liverpool have been scoring well but not looking the same defensive unit that they were last season. Sitting middle of the table for shots conceded, Chelsea could definitely find some joy going forwards against them, even if Liverpool put the pressure on our backline. For me, Chelsea slightly edged Liverpool in the Super Cup game, so I wouldn’t be hugely surprised if Chelsea come out on top in this one. Key stat for me is no team has made more defensive mistakes than Liverpool so far this season – Tammy Abraham’s high press could definitely find some joy here.
This will be the first game after Champions League duty. It largely depends on the draw, but I wouldn’t expect massive rotation just yet, though there may be some tired legs on both teams by the end.
Who to buy / watch
Right now, it’s not the easiest to argue for buying many Chelsea players because my eyes are completely glued to the fixture swing after gameweek 6 because oh boy they look golden. That being said, there’s a couple names you could be thinking about for transfers this week, with a couple more to keep an eye on going forward.
As I’ve already said, Mason Mount is looking seriously good. He certainly seems to be the first-choice number 10 now, and has boasted some pretty impressive underlying stats. Going forwards for Chelsea, he’s became both a key threat and a key creator. As mentioned earlier, he not only leads the team but all midfielders for goal attempts, yet also has the most crosses for Chelsea and the most chances created. He’s now leading the team in both xG and xA, and is frequently the furthest forward player on the pitch.
And he looks seriously good.
Did I mention he was only 6.2m? Not bad.
When I first watched Emerson play for Chelsea, I was really impressed by his desire to get to the by-line – seemingly every time he picked up the ball he wanted to whip it across the box after turning a defender on his heels. Sadly, that trait seemed to die down as he began establishing himself as the most defensively solid left back at Chelsea, whilst Alonso was used as the left back that liked to forget he was a left back. I think it’s clear to everyone now that Emerson is the first choice left back and despite me worrying that Alonso would start some of the easier games it was reassuring to see him play the 90 versus Norwich.
You might be wondering why I’m recommending watching him though – after all, you may have seen my lamenting over the state of Chelsea’s defence in recent months on Twitter. Well, it’s down to his offensive performance.
Like I said, Alonso was always the attacking left back. Or at least, he was. Throughout pre-season Emerson showed a greater attacking focus, but in the league he’s taken it to the next level – this season’s Emerson likes to attack. From the very first game against United, Emerson was putting real pressure on the United defence, picking up an exceptional 4 goal attempts (highest in the game) with 3 having come from inside the box. Only the post was able to stop him from scoring a deserved goal in a game where he walked away with the teams highest xA and xG. Plus, his average position was more advanced than Abraham – that’s just filthy.
What’s more, WhoScored have rated his as the best left back in Europe’s top 5 leagues this season, statistically. What does this mean? Not clue. But it’s not a bad merit next to your name at this stage! If Chelsea tighten up – he’s on my radar.
I bounce back and forth on Tammy Abraham. Don’t get me wrong – he’s who I’d pick as Chelsea’s best forward currently, but it’s his FPL potential that has me doubtful.
What’s Tammy Abraham’s big problem at Chelsea so far? You could argue a lack of strength to play the hold-up game, but I’d argue that’s not his priority. For me, it’s his finishing. Playing as a forward at Chelsea recently, you have to accept you might get games that are particularly lonely for you. Lampard is definitely trying to change that, but the fact of the matter is sometimes the supply lines get cut and the chances dry up. When that happens, clinical finishing is essential. And based on preseason and the start of this season, Tammy lacks that.
Until the Norwich game came about. During that game Abraham picked up 2 goals, both taken superbly, including his first career goal from outside the box. If he continues with that sort of finishing he could be a steal. But then, I think about the incoming Champions League. Surely, with Giroud and Batshuayi at Lampard’s disposal, there will be some rotation to keep players fit, so will we see Abraham missing some league games? Quite possible.
His style of play is also a worry – as I mentioned in my tweet here https://twitter.com/RotationFPL/status/1160975175116034049?s=20 – which is echoed by something I earlier said: Emerson’s average position was ahead of Abraham’s. That’s great for Emerson, sure, but worry for anyone owning Abraham! For what it’s worth, the Norwich game showed a great improvement in his positioning and underlying stats.
One to watch and keep in mind for those gameweek 7 onwards fixtures.
Who to sell / avoid
All the names here come with some pretty hefty caveats, so take caution while reading!
It’s not that Pedro has been playing badly, just the competition for places is awful for him. He’s been heavily favoured by Lampard recently – arguably due to a lack of competition – but I can’t see it continuing to much with Hudson-Odoi and Willian returning. UCL might help him get some games somewhere, but his performances lack the explosiveness to make the risk worth it. Wouldn’t bother wasting your time there.
Or it might be Christensen. I’m not sure, and nor is anyone really. When Rudiger returns after the IB, it can be expected that one of Zouma or Christensen will drop out. In Zouma’s favour, he tends to play LCB and Rudiger prefers RCB, which is Christensen’s preferred spot. Additionally, Zouma is closer to a Luiz replacement whereas Christensen plays in the Rudiger style.
In Christensen’s favour have been the recent performances. He’s bested Zouma statistically across the board – making more blocks, more clearances and less fouls in the 3 games. Critically, he’s smashed Zouma for tackles, having made 8 to Zouma’s 1. Furthermore, in the game versus United he (Zouma) looked completely out of depth plus looked vulnerable in the first half of the Norwich game.
Considering how Zouma has looked the weaker both statistically and by the eye test, I’m guessing he will lose his place to Rudiger. It’s tight though.
He’s definitely behind Mount now. With limited minutes, his appeal drops a good amount and that’s even before any positional changes are taking into account. So far, we haven’t seen Barkley get to start a game in that favoured number 10 role and it’s seriously impacting on him.
Statistically, he hasn’t done too badly at all – he ranks top for the team in chances created per 90 mins and second for goal attempts per 90, but he just hasn’t looked the same Barkley we saw in preseason. Poor positioning, poor decision making and weak influence has meant many fans are a little put off from him, despite him putting in a huge shift against Norwich that saw him cover the most ground, make the most shots and create the most chances.
Needs to play regularly and to be less of a peripheral figure in the attack to be a great FPL option.