I’m starting to think that someone at FPL is a Chelsea fan.
For the second season in a row, Chelsea assets have been handed some strangely low price tags in what I can only assume is a ploy to see how many Arsenal fans they can tempt into loading up on Blues players. With multiple well-priced gems to cover, I’ll split this into two parts reflecting the two polar opposites sides to our squad – the fast-paced, exciting forward line that looks set to return bags of goals and the defence that makes you think you’d rather watch “Celebrity Antiques Road Trip” on BBC2 than this mess.
Starting a look at Chelsea’s FPL options with the defence is like heading to Glastonbury and immediately seeing them parade George Ezra out. Sure he’s a talented singer, don’t get me wrong, but to be honest we’re all just here for Stormzy. Like it or not though, George is coming to warm you up so you might as well enjoy it, similar to how even if Chelsea defenders don’t have much of a case in our teams right now, it’s worth seeing what could be done to improve.
As soon as we talk about areas where we need to improve, Kepa’s name comes up right away. Chelsea fans, and rival fans, love to pile criticism onto Kepa after a shock loss or a particularly painful demolition, but is it fair that we blame it all on him?
It’s been done to death, but let’s take a quick look at Chelsea’s defensive stats.
Goal attempts in box conceded – 219 (2nd lowest in the league, behind City)
Goal attempts on target conceded – 115 (3rd lowest in the league)
Big chances conceded – 65 (5th lowest)
Errors – 14 (Joint 3rd lowest)
Given nobody in the league conceded more goals away from home than us this season, that all seems strangely positive! Even our Expected Goals conceded looks very respectable at 38.84, less than a goal different from Manchester United. So how come our defensive record was so poor?
You can probably see where this is going.
We all know how disappointing Kepa has been, and the attributed blame he has received after recent performances is more than deserved – I’ll spare you the stats, but if I have to include Gunn in the stats tables just so that Kepa isn’t dead last for every single statistic you can tell that something has gone wrong for the world’s most expensive goalkeeper. So why is there such a clamouring for a new centre-back, if it’s all his fault?
With all 4 of our main CBs having picked up 15 or more starts, it hasn’t been a tightly guarded secret that Frank still isn’t set on his ideal defensive partnership. With Zouma being the only exception, we have seen 3 of the CBs dropped at one point or another after making a series of unfortunate mistakes in the backline, be it poor tackling and defensive work or positional errors. Far too often have less than stellar attacks found themselves walking through acres of space or having their star forwards completely unmarked in the box. Far too frequently have we seen rebounds fall to opposition players, because our defenders have, to be quite frank, given up.
The recent Sheffield United loss nicely showcased all of that and more, with each centre-back on the pitch having a shocker. In the first half, we saw McGoldrick tap home a rebound with Christensen and Zouma statuesque, followed 15 minutes later by an unmarked McBurnie header because Christensen was marking…. himself? The third came from Sheffield United’s Mousset getting in behind Azpilicueta at left-back and cutting back to Rudiger, who beautifully fouled himself yet still managed to square it to McGoldrick for his second of the night. All three goals will be looked at as avoidable and came from Sheffield United’s only 3 attacks that resulted in a shot on target.
What difference does a good keeper make though? The backline’s confidence in Kepa’s ability is clearly gone and for good reason with numerous occasions where Kepa hasn’t asserted himself in the penalty area despite vocal pleas from all defenders (see Liverpool game 22nd July) and Kepa’s limp wrists (pick a game, any game). Simply having a goalkeeper behind you that you know you can depend on makes a huge difference to defences, famously highlighted by Liverpool’s defensive improvement following the acquisition of Allison. Therefore, I personally want to see a new Goalkeeper signed far more than any centre-back, and I certainly don’t want another “good not world-class” CB to join the collection. Whilst Frank Lampard is very aware that we don’t have a commanding, elite CB with strong aerial prowess (a la Terry) anymore, those types of defenders don’t come cheap and unless we’re willing to cough up the big bucks for one, I don’t want to settle for the Lidl version in this case.
Why buy a Boly when you can buy a Doherty?
FPL managers will always flock to the full-backs unless they’re strapped for cash (or we’re talking about Newcastle) and Chelsea should be no different.
On the right, Reece James has been handed a very kind £5.0m price tag that will certainly attract a few admirers following a mature and robust debut season, despite underperforming in terms of attacking returns. Reece has an absolutely wicked cross on him and deserved far more assists than he got this season, but fell foul to Chelsea forwards being unable to turn these chances away. Showing an attacking mindset that saw only the Liverpool full-backs beat him for touches per 90 in the final 3rd among defenders with 20+ starts, I can only really see James going from strength to strength in this regard, with higher quality forwards now playing ahead of him. However, he isn’t without fault. In numerous games this season we’ve seen a few mistakes from him – missing runs, missing tackles, losing possession or being severely out of position. All of these things have to be expected from a young defender, but with a new left-back surely on the way to the club, there will be fears that Azpilicueta will claim a share of these minutes at his expense.
In truth, this is a very genuine risk – Azpilicueta has shown that despite slowing in recent years, he’s still one of the best defenders at the club, if not the best. It is a testament to his ability that this season he was first-choice left-back, first-choice CB when playing 3 at the back and, at times, first-choice right-back. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t want to call who starts at right-back next season. My heart says it’s James’ time to shine, but there’s a niggling thought that Frank Lampard will still heavily depend on Azpilicueta, especially as soon as James shows a few games with bad form. Perhaps one thing of note could be the departure of Willian and the arrival of Ziyech. Despite my praise for Willian’s defensive work-rate when needed, there’s no doubting that defence wasn’t his forte. Ziyech comes in with far better defensive stats, showing both improved quality and quantity in that regard, which may be of huge help to young Reece. It should be noted, however, that these numbers are somewhat inflated by Ziyech’s intensive pressing in the opponent’s final third.
Emerson’s future at Chelsea looks incredibly dim and I expect him to be off this summer. His position-mate, Alonso, can still hope to see minutes if a back 5 was to be deployed, but equally could leave if the right offer came – whilst he’s useful, I understand he is not in Lampard’s plans. Despite one of the best points per 90 scores in FPL, sadly Alonso will struggle to be an FPL option outside of Free Hit punts or if he manages to get extended periods of starts due to injuries.