Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Thomas Tuchel faces injury concern as eye-opening stats highlight Chelsea’s biggest creators

Chelsea’s lack of creativity against Manchester City on Saturday was the worst we’ve seen from the Blues for some time.

Granted, Pep Guardiola’s reigning champions were absolutely fantastic, with their well organised and intense pressing a particular highlight of their display, but the home side were simply toothless in attack and the stats prove it.

No shots on target at home is bleak but coupled with the more insightful xG (Expected Goals) score from the game (a stat that estimates the quality of chances created) it was the lowest of the Thomas Tuchel era so far.

Supporters have been desperately searching for the reason their side’s attack was so blunt on Saturday, with Tuchel’s 3-5-2 formation often the conclusion.

However, perhaps Chelsea’s biggest issue was the fact they were without two of their biggest creative threats. Mason Mount was ruled out of the game through injury, while Reece James was forced off in the opening 30 minutes with an ankle injury.

Now, you don’t have to be a footballing genius to realise why the pair are so important to their side’s attacking endeavours. Mount’s ability to link up with his teammates while finding pockets of space to drive forward from is key to Chelsea’s play, and James’ incredible crossing ability – which was showcased in the Carabao Cup victory over Aston Villa – has unlocked a whole host of defences in recent seasons.

However, to understand just how important Mount and James are to Chelsea, you have to analyse the pair’s attacking stats in the Premier League so far this season.

Statistics website The Analyst recently ranked teams and players in a number of different categories.

What caught the eye most from a Chelsea perspective was the xA (Expected Assists) table. As explained by Opta Analytics, xA measures the likelihood that a given pass will become a goal assist. It considers several factors including the type of pass, pass end-point and length of pass. Within the database, Mount and James rank highest so far in the 2021/22 Premier League season, above Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold, Manchester City’s Jack Grealish and Manchester United’s Paul Pogba.

Mount has played 307 minutes in the league for Chelsea so far this season while James has played just 187 minutes. Both have been shining lights at the club since their breakthrough under Frank Lampard in the 2019/20 campaign, becoming key figures within Tuchel’s Champions League-winning squad.

Mount’s creativity has been more obvious under Tuchel so far, playing higher up the pitch and being involved in most of Chelsea’s attacking moves, the best example being his outstanding pass in the Champions League final to Kai Havertz for the winning goal.

However, James’ quality from the right is perhaps only truly beginning to be recognised following the arrival of Romelu Lukaku. The England international set up Lukaku’s first goal for Chelsea in August against Arsenal – a game he also scored in.

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The injuries to Mount and James couldn’t have come at a worse time for Chelsea given their lack of spark against City, and Tuchel is likely to afford the pair as much time as he can to prove their fitness ahead of the clash with Juventus.

Chelsea fans will hope Lukaku and Timo Werner will be provided with better service in the upcoming games against Juventus and Southampton, but without James and Mount, Tuchel’s side may have to rely on an individual moment of brilliance from one of their other star men.

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