The Debrief: Chelsea's 2021/22 season so far

Over a quarter of the way through the Premier League campaign and with our Champions League group taking shape, the final international break of the year provides a chance to analyse some of the standout statistics from Chelsea’s season so far and reflect on what they tell us about our style of play…

The Blues are top of the league having accrued 26 points from our 11 games so far, scoring 27 goals and conceding just four. On the seven previous occasions Chelsea have mustered 26 or more points after 11 Premier League games, we’ve never finished lower than third, winning the title four times. 

We are currently averaging 2.36 points per game this season, in contrast to 1.76 last term. At our current rate we would finish on 90 points.

The average points per game of the 11 opponents we have faced so far is 1.15, the lowest figure in the league. However, that is obviously skewed by the fact we have beaten eight of them. Looking at our remaining fixtures, the average points per game the opposition have accumulated so far is 1.38, suggesting a slight increase in difficulty in our remaining 27 fixtures.

Efficient in both boxes

What has enabled our excellent start to the season? In simple terms, the Blues have been clinical in front of goal, and dogged defensively.

The Burnley game was an outlier. That is the only league game we have underperformed our xG – expected goals – by more than one.

The measurement of expected goals, or xG, attempts to improve the shot metric by taking into account where the shot was taken from, the assist for the shot, what body part it was shot with, and further factors, such as the keeper’s positioning, depending on which provider you use.

So rather than simply saying Chelsea had 25 shots and Burnley had five, Opta give an xG value to each shot by cross referencing it with all the shots in their database. Of course, the system is not flawless, but it gives a good indicator of a team’s efficiency in both boxes.

This season, both offensively and defensively, we have considerably outperformed our xG and xGA (expected goals against). In fact, no other team has a higher differential in both departments.

The individual stats show we were especially clinical in the home wins over Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and Norwich, and grateful to a combination of Edouard Mendy, our defence and the opposition’s profligacy at Liverpool and Brentford.

Varied goal threat

One of the reasons we have found goals easy to come by this season is because of the danger we pose all over the pitch.

The direction our attacks stem from are weighted fairly equally: 35 per cent down the left, 37 per cent down the right, and 28 per cent through the middle. That makes it tough for opponents to prioritise a single area of the pitch to try and stop us (more on our wing-backs soon).

Not only are we consistently building up attacks from different areas of the pitch, but we have an impressive breadth of goal threats. In all competitions, we have already had 17 different scorers (plus an own goal), and 12 different players have provided assists, both league-high numbers.

That our chances are shared around is further highlighted by the fact we have no players in the top 35 in the Premier League for shots attempted this season, despite having netted the second-highest number of goals (only Liverpool have more than our 27 in the league).

Our seven goals scored from set-pieces is a joint league-high figure, with the quality of our deliveries from out wide as well as some clever corner routines making us a potent threat from dead balls. We are yet to score from a counter-attack this season, although that can be partly explained by the deep defences we regularly come up against.

Wing-backs staying forward

In the centre of the park, Mateo Kovacic’s five league assists have only been bettered by Paul Pogba and Mohamed Salah (seven apiece), but it is the wing-backs that remain the hallmark of Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea team.

Opposition sides might have got a good idea of their implementation in the 10 months since Tuchel’s arrival, but they show few signs of being able to stop them. Reece James already has four league goals and Ben Chilwell isn’t far behind with three. The only other defender or wing-back in the Premier League to have netted more than once this season is Trevoh Chalobah.

James also has three league assists, and occasional right wing-back Cesar Azpilicueta has two. When it comes to key passes, those Opta define to have set up a chance, Marcos Alonso averages two per league game, and James 1.9. That is enough to get them both in the top 20 key pass provider so far this season.

Our consistent dominance of possession and our high pass completion rate enables our wing-backs to stay high up the pitch and create overloads down the flanks. Final-third quality is still needed, and they have provided that in abundance so far in 2021/22.

Freshness pays

Tuchel has made 38 Premier League starting XI changes this season, by some distance the most of any team (Liverpool are next with 29).

The depth of quality at his disposal has helped his players stay fresh, and perhaps explains why we have scored first in 10 of our 11 league matches, leading at half-time in seven of those games. We have only gone behind once in the league, at home to Man City, and those are the trends Tuchel will be hoping continue as we head into the busy Christmas period.

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