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Premier League Team Preview: Chelsea

All 20 Premier League clubs are being previewed ahead of the 2019/20 season. This instalment discusses Europa League winners Chelsea.

  • 2018/19 Finish: 3rd
  • Signings so far: Mateo Kovacic (£40m), Christian Pulisic (£57m)
  • Possible Gameweek 1 lineup (4-2-3-1): Kepa, Azpilicueta, Christensen, David Luiz, Alonso, Jorginho, Kante, Pedro, Barkley, Pulisic, Giroud
  • First six fixtures: Man Utd (A), Leicester (H), Norwich (A), Sheffield Utd (H), Wolves (A), Liverpool (H)

As touched upon in the Premier League top six article, Chelsea find themselves in a precarious position following the sale of Eden Hazard and departure of Maurizio Sarri coinciding with a transfer ban.

But with no inward or outward transfer activity since his appointment, Lampard has been able to work with the same group of players for several weeks. Going an entire summer without buying anyone is far from ideal, but this enforced ban may make Chelsea one of the more cohesive units in the early weeks of the season.

An impact similar to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Manchester United may be possible during a run of just two top six opponents up until late-November. Incidentally, it was in the same number of games that the Norwegian chalked up 32 points out of a possible 36.

Where certainly lies in Frank Lampard’s likely lineup for the trip to Old Trafford is in defensive areas. Only Alisson and Ederson kept more clean sheets than Kepa Arrizabalaga in 2018/19 and the world’s most expensive goalkeeper will keep his place ahead of Willy Caballero. Although with a save percentage of just 67.8% and an xG prevented of -1.90, Kepa ranked just 14th and 10th respectively amongst regular starting goalkeepers (1000+ minutes). At 24, he certainly has potential to improve but he cannot be considered amongst the league’s best goalkeepers just yet.

In defence, Cesar Azpilicueta and David Luiz provide the only guaranteed starters ahead of next Sunday’s trip to Old Trafford. One of Kurt Zouma and Andreas Christensen will partner the Brazilian in Antonio Rudiger’s absence, whilst shared game time between Emerson and Marcos Alonso in the latter part of 2018/19 leaves a degree of uncertainty at left-back.

It is clear that when in the team, Alonso is by far the most attacking of Chelsea’s defenders. A total of 45 goal attempts ranked the Spaniard joint second amongst all defenders, whilst he also finished inside the top seven for attempts and touches in the box. David Luiz’s 34 attempts and 21 in the box do see him perform relatively well in these categories, with the benefit of being a certain starter on top.

This is similarly reflected in the defenders’ assist potential with Azpilicueta this time the slightly less productive but more certain to start option behind Alonso.

One area that Chelsea are vulnerable defensively is in the air, as all of their usual back four (Azpilicueta, Rudiger, Luiz, Alonso) won fewer than 60% of their aerial duels. This ranked the quartet outside of the top 50 amongst defenders to play over 1000 minutes. This could certainly be an area to exploit for sides proficient from set-pieces and direct passes – where is Tony Pulis when you need him?

From an FPL perspective, the data suggests that defensive investment is best made in the form of either Azpilicueta or David Luiz. Kepa is a victim of Lloris being an excellent option at £5.5m, who was the only goalkeeper to manage 10+ clean sheets and 100+ saves in 2018/19. Lloris (77.7%) also had the second highest save percentage of goalkeepers to play over 1000 minutes, behind Alisson (79.2%).

Neither of the two defenders in question have standout underlying numbers, but both have enough assist and goal potential respectively to justify investment if clean sheets are a regularity. With N’Golo Kante set to return to his more natural holding midfield role to provide further protection in front of the back four, they are certainly boosted in that regard. However with Manchester United and Leicester to start the season, initial investment here may not be warranted.

It is in midfield and attack that predicting Lampard’s team selection becomes more complicated. Based on his Derby days, a variant of 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 is the most likely system.

The Options
Central/Attacking Midfielders (3 positions): Jorginho, Kante, Kovacic, Barkley, Mount
Wingers/Inside Forwards (2 positions): Willian, Pedro, Pulisic
Centre Forwards (1 position): Giroud, Abraham, Batshuayi
*Players likely to be sold (Drinkwater and Bakayoko) or with medium to long-term injuries (Hudson-Odoi and Loftus-Cheek) are omitted.

One area that must be improved upon is the team scoring more goals from midfield following the sale of Eden Hazard. Looking beyond long-term absentee Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s outstanding return of six goals in 980 minutes, Kante, Barkley, Jorginho and Kovacic only managed nine between them.

Having previously scored 13 times and delivered 22 assists between 2015 and 2017 at Everton, Barkley can certainly improve in that regard but the other three are simply not goalscoring midfielders. Therefore, no more than two of Kante, Jorginho and Kovacic alongside either or both of Mount and Barkley will be the make-up of Chelsea’s midfield.

Possible opportunities do arise here as Jorginho is a candidate to take spot-kicks. His nonchalant penalty routine was previously seen on the opening day of last season with Eden Hazard sat on the bench.

Further forward, Willian also deserves a mention. There is no need to discuss him now wearing the number ten as Dominic Solanke’s recent capture of Bournemouth’s number nine shirt from the departing Lys Mousset suggests how meaningless shirt numbers are in the modern day.

However, the vacancy left by Hazard is more apt when it comes to creativity. It is no coincidence that Hazard’s least productive season (2015/16) was Willian’s most as he took over the Belgian’s mantle and was able to reach double figures for assists.

Even despite playing just 2108 minutes, Willian ranked fifth amongst all Premier League players for chances created, behind Moutinho, Fraser, Hazard and Maddison. Now as the main creator in an attack-minded Chelsea team, it could prove to be his most productive season to date. However, it is worth noting that Willian has yet to feature in any of Chelsea’s pre-season games due to injury.

Up front, it is truly a minefield as rather than two players filling three slots, it is one into three. Premier League experience may favour Giroud in the early stages but an argument could be made for Batshuayi’s rate of a Premier League goal every 113 minutes or even Abraham eventually making the step up from Championship goal machine to a Premier League quality marksman. Rotation will certainly be on the cards here.

To summarise, Chelsea’s squad is certainly weaker than last season following the departure of Eden Hazard. Meanwhile, Derby’s expected data over-performance by reaching the play-offs and Frank Lampard’s lack of managerial experience provide further obstacles to them securing a top four finish once again.

There is no disputing the talent that Chelsea possess but the extent to which their attacking players can cover for the loss of Hazard remains to be seen. Willian could be the man to step up based on his 2018/19 creativity data but this alone will not be enough service to fill the goalscoring void. Incremental increases from the club’s midfielders in front of goal will be vital.

In FPL terms, Alonso is the standout defensive option when he plays, whilst Azpilicueta and Luiz provide a balance between reliability and their respective assist and goal threat. Offensively, opportunities will arise, with Jorginho and Willian currently appearing the most worthy of consideration at their price points.

What must be stressed is the uncertainty shrouding how a number of their players will perform, either through partially filling the Hazard void or having barely appeared for the club previously. But where there is uncertainty, there are opportunities and this looks set to be an exciting season of transition for the club and their young players, even if their league position falls by the wayside.

Stats from Fantasy Football Scout

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