Chelsea brought the curtain down on the 2021/22 season with a 2-1 win over Watford by a rotated side and the statistics show some of the players who came into the team played key roles in the game.
The Blues took an early lead at Stamford Bridge through Kai Havertz’s close-range finish after Kenedy drove the ball across goal, but it briefly looked like we would have to settle for a draw when Dan Gosling equalised for the Hornets with four minutes of normal time remaining.
However, substitute Ross Barkley stepped up to head in the winning goal from Reece James’ chipped ball to the back post. Coming in added time of the last game, it was the midfielder’s first Chelsea goal of the season and set a new club record, as he became the 21st different player to find the net for the Blues during the campaign.
Making an impact
Before Sunday’s match Barkley, Saul Niguez and Kenedy had a combined 14 Premier League appearances to their name in 2021/22, but all three played their part in our final-day win over Watford.
Barkley’s came from the bench, meaning he had just 28 minutes plus stoppages to make his mark, but he was clearly determined to do so from the moment he stepped onto the pitch. No doubt aware he was one of only three senior outfield players without a goal to his name this season, our No18 pushed forward constantly and welcomed any invitation to correct that fact.
Only Mason Mount and Havertz (both five, the highest of anyone) attempted more than Barkley’s three shots, but the 28-year-old stood out by the fact that all three of his found the target, including the winner. His three shots on target was the most of any player, and as many as the entire Watford team combined, despite only being on the pitch for a third of the game.
Saul and Kenedy had more time to work with. They were both in the starting line-up, Saul lasting the full match and Kenedy being substituted after an hour of his only Premier League appearance of the season.
Saul seemed similarly determined to get his name on the scoresheet, matching Barkley’s three shots, with all three coming from outside the penalty area and two finding the target, while Kenedy played the role of provider and only James provided more than his two key passes, in addition to getting the assist for the opening goal.
The changes in personnel Thomas Tuchel made to his side for this last game of the season also influenced a subtle change to our shape.
Saul sat quite deep as the more withdrawn of our midfielders, happy to let N’Golo Kante provide the majority of the forward running, while allowing James and the more attacking option of Kenedy on the left to operate even higher up the pitch than we usually see our wing-backs.
However, those two wide men often went for the underlap towards dangerous areas, allowing Mount and Hakim Ziyech to try and provide balls into the box from the flanks, as shown by those two recording four crosses each, the highest number by any Chelsea player.
We tried to use that attacking width to our advantage, with only 26 per cent of our attacks coming down the centre of the pitch, while the cover of Saul also allowed Thiago Silva to roam more in possession. That resulted in the Brazilian defender having a 107 touches (second only to Cesar Azpilicueta’s 120) while maintaining an impressive 98 per cent pass completion rate.
Meeting the threat
The other side of that coin seemed to be that Watford targeted the space behind the attack-minded Kenedy as an area they could exploit, with 49 per cent of their attacks focused down our left flank.
However, with the help of Saul, Kenedy was able to answer most of the questions asked of him defensively by the Hornets. Nobody matched the Spaniard’s 10 attempted tackles and only Kante equalled the six by our left wing-back. Saul’s eight successful tackles was also the most of anyone, Kenedy in joint-second with five, alongside Watford defender Christian Kabasele.