Friday, December 2, 2016

Quick Preview of Chelsea

You may have noticed, but Chelsea are a little different this season. As I wrote here, they've had a very impressive recent streak which has lifted them to the top of the table. The results have obviously been a big change after a season of struggling in midtable, but the way they've gotten them has been different too. Conte has installed a 3-4-3 formation, and exiled from the starting eleven many key contributors from their championship team. Below are their usage rates for the season so far:

Name Successful Passes Total Passes Unsuccessful Passes Key Passes Assists Goals Shots Take-Ons Take-On Success % Unsuccessful Take-Ons Minutes Possessions Used Usage Rate Positive Outcomes Negative Outcomes % Positive
Costa 275 372 97 18 4 10 41 25 35 46 1144 206 15.62% 63 143 30.58%
Hazard 534 632 98 26 1 7 36 53 72 21 1077 182 14.66% 63 119 34.62%
Alonso 258 341 83 10 1 1 13 2 33 4 666 111 14.46% 24 87 21.62%
Oscar 199 239 40 14 1 0 12 1 11 8 462 75 14.08% 27 48 36.00%
Moses 257 321 64 7 1 3 16 20 61 13 669 101 13.09% 24 77 23.76%
Willian 225 253 28 24 0 2 14 17 65 9 511 75 12.73% 38 37 50.67%
Pedro 175 210 35 6 5 3 14 14 61 9 577 69 10.37% 25 44 36.23%
Ivanovic 256 307 51 3 0 0 7 6 67 3 563 64 9.86% 10 54 15.63%
Matic 683 773 90 8 6 0 6 9 43 12 1135 122 9.32% 20 102 16.39%
Kante 767 857 90 9 0 1 15 16 67 8 1170 122 9.04% 24 98 19.67%
Azpilicueta 714 805 91 5 0 0 5 6 86 1 1170 102 7.56% 10 92 9.80%
Luiz 320 376 56 3 0 0 10 4 100 0 810 69 7.39% 13 56 18.84%
Terry 234 256 22 2 0 0 4 0 0 0 370 28 6.56% 6 22 21.43%
Cahill 580 657 77 2 0 1 6 1 33 2 1163 87 6.49% 8 79 9.20%
Courtois 109 164 55 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1170 55 4.08% 0 55 0.00%

As you can see, the wing-backs are very involved in this formation. Moses and Alonso both have usage rates that are usually reserved for true wingers and use their possessions pretty efficiently to boot. Their late-breaking runs to open space on the far side after an overload on the near side are truly dangerous, as Spurs found out last weekend. That will be something City need to keep an eye on. I would definitely think a back four is the right play here, as I would not want to rely on some combination of Sterling/KDB/Sane/Navas to track back on them.

The possessions the wing-backs are using had to come from somewhere. Let's take a look at last year's usage rates for comparison:

Player Successful Passes Total Passes Unsuccessful Passes Key Passes Assists Goals Shots Take-Ons Take-On Success % Unsuccessful Take-Ons Minutes Possessions Used Usage Rate Positive Outcomes Negative Outcomes % Positive
Fabregas 2278 2700 422 59 7 5 45 23 55 19 2900 552 15.98% 111 441 20.12%
Oscar 837 1033 196 26 3 3 52 26 42 36 1774 313 14.81% 81 232 25.89%
Hazard 1204 1403 199 63 3 4 36 89 62 55 2196 356 13.60% 102 254 28.69%
Willian 1220 1473 253 75 6 5 60 84 67 41 2740 435 13.35% 141 294 32.39%
Costa 641 824 183 24 6 12 68 40 37 68 2374 349 12.35% 98 251 28.07%
Pedro 809 966 157 40 2 7 57 52 58 38 2036 294 12.11% 99 195 33.71%
Kennedy 248 288 40 6 0 1 13 26 62 16 560 75 11.24% 19 56 25.36%
Ramires 244 306 62 1 0 2 10 6 40 9 616 82 11.18% 11 71 13.41%
Azpilicueta 1438 1766 328 17 3 2 10 6 30 14 3202 372 9.76% 30 342 8.06%
Matic 1387 1577 190 17 2 2 34 38 72 15 2421 258 8.94% 53 205 20.56%
Rahman 427 513 86 2 1 0 6 8 73 3 1023 98 8.04% 9 89 9.19%
Ivanovic 1051 1272 221 11 2 2 28 10 67 5 2916 267 7.69% 41 226 15.36%
Zouma 578 720 142 0 1 1 17 4 57 3 1918 163 7.14% 18 145 11.04%
Courtois 138 303 165 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2018 165 6.87% 0 165 0.00%
Mikel 1091 1218 127 4 1 0 7 20 87 3 1793 142 6.65% 12 130 8.45%
Cahill 624 751 127 2 1 2 13 3 60 2 1957 145 6.22% 16 129 11.03%
Begovic 96 184 88 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1398 88 5.29% 0 88 0.00%
Terry 824 917 93 2 0 1 10 2 50 2 1987 107 4.52% 12 95 11.21%

Fabregas, Oscar, and Willian aren't featuring as much this year, and all of them had very high usage rates last season. It's Fabregas who is the most interesting case, as he had been a staple of the Chelsea team the past two years as a central midfield creator. This year it's primarily just Kante and Matic in the center behind Costa, and while Matic has contributed six (!) assists so far, I think that assist rate unlikely to continue. The usage rates match the eye test, which says they are functional distributors and defenders, but they leave chance and shot creation to others. Once again, assuming Conte sticks with the same 3-4-3 formation, this means City should probably concentrate on the wide areas when defending.

As for attacking, the 3-4-3 can leave gaps behind the wingbacks certainly. I think Sterling in particular will be important, as he will likely be attacking down Chelsea's left versus Cahill (arguably the weakest of Chelsea's center-backs) and Alonso (who doesn't have the speed to touch him). We'll also need KDB and Silva/Gundogan to be at their very best to not be swallowed whole by Kante and Matic, as that will be key to City establishing their attack. That said, Chelsea don't have a lot of holes on defense, allowing the second-fewest shots on target per Opponent's Possession.

This is by far the toughest Premier League test City have faced so far and I have to say I am not super confident of a City win here. Hopefully the full week of rest will help rejuvenate some players (particularly Fernandinho, who has still played every PL minute) and we'll be able to put out a good performance. No matter what happens though, it should be fascinating to see how the two teams match up.

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