To say the Mauricio Pochettino era at Chelsea has gotten off to a stuttering start would be a bit of an understatement. The Blues have been erratic, at best, following up creditable draws with Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City with losses to West Ham United, Brentford and Newcastle United.
The emphatic defeat at St. James' Park on Saturday afternoon meant Chelsea had conceded four goals in successive Premier League matches. They’ve now conceded 20 this season. The Blues are one of only three teams in the top 10 to have conceded 20 or more goals this term, the other two sides being Brighton and West Ham (both on 23).
At the current rate, Chelsea are set to concede almost 60 in the English top-flight this term. Granted, the sample size isn’t the largest, we have played a third of the campaign. If they continue to concede, on average, 1.54 goals per 90, there is no chance they claim a top four place.
Pochettino isn’t under pressure. But he is going to be scrutinised, and rightly so.
Chelsea have invested heavily over the past 18 months and there’s been a real focus on the midfield. It is the engine room of a team and, more often than not, when this area of a team performs well, the rest of the team performs well.
The Blues brought in Enzo Fernandez during the January transfer window, paying a reported £105m to pry the in-demand Argentine playmaker away from Benfica. They followed up that splurge with another £100m midfield signing in Moises Caicedo in the summer. Chelsea also added Lesley Ugochukwu and Romeo Lavia to their ranks. Given this sort of outlay on young, talented players, you would expect a certain level of performance from those in the middle third. Something we aren’t seeing on a regular basis.
😤 Enzo Fernandez has taken more shots without scoring a goal (22) than any other player in the Premier League this season pic.twitter.com/HeDREhzIJQ— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) November 28, 2023
We’ll use the last two outings as examples.
Against Manchester City, Chelsea were lauded for going toe-to-toe with the reigning champions. Pochettino was praised for his aggressive tactics but when you look at the midfield numbers, Fernandez attempted just three tackles on the day and was successful on one occasion. Caicedo had a 50% success rate having attempted two tackles.
In the 4-1 humbling at St James’ Park, a game in which Chelsea had just 45% possession, Fernandez, won just one of his two attempted tackles while Ugochukwu, in for Caciedo, won five of his six. The former Brighton midfielder came off the bench and, once again, won just 50% of his tackles.
Ugochukwu aside, Chelsea’s midfield signings haven’t been doing enough defensively over recent weeks and that has no doubt played a part in their high-scoring games. Most Expected Goal models had Manchester City down as having created chances worth 2.88 goals while Newcastle carved out opportunities worth 2.36 goals. The same models have them down as conceding chances worth around 18 goals so far this term. That works out at around 1.4 per 90, which equates to 53 over the entire 38-game campaign.
This particular metric highlights the fact that they haven’t just been unlucky this season and that there are defensive issues that shouldn’t be ignored just because we’re only a few months into the Pochettino project. He has an expensively assembled squad that should be doing much better than they are. It is up to him to get the best out of the likes of Caicedo and Fernandez. If he manages to get them playing well, the Blues will climb the table in no time. If he can’t, they might be a mid-table team again.