Chelsea’s uncanny form

After a defeat to Tottenham Hotspur at the weekend, a lot of focus has been on Chelsea and Antonio Conte’s future at the club.

It’s been rumbling for most of the season, with fresh waves of discontent appearing after what seems like every loss, and the consensus seems to be that Conte wants, and will get, out.

The season has been weird for Chelsea, not only because of how disappointing they’ve been compared to their great form last year when they won the title but because of the tripartite nature of this campaign.

As shown below in a graphic taken from an article I co-wrote for Football Whispers, Chelsea’s performances were pretty mediocre from games 1-13, then quite good from games 14-22, and then mediocre again from game 23 onwards. It’s an astonishingly clear delineation in their underlying form.chelsea xg diffSo why the difference?

Well, the rate at which Chelsea progressed the ball was also markedly different in this middle period of the season than the two either side of it.

Early on, Chelsea was only marginally making more passes into the final third than their opponents, and passes into the box per game were basically neck and neck (percentages correspond to the section of the pitch these were split between: left wing, left half-space, center, right half-space, right wing).Chelsea games 1-13It seems interesting that Chelsea struggled to progress the ball down their left flank, considering that this is the side of the pitch Eden Hazard tends to occupy, although thinking about it Marcos Alonso is much more noticeable when he’s on the receiving end of crosses than he is in creating opportunities for the team himself.

But then, in the good middle spell, Chelsea started clicking in attack, finding an extra 60 final third passes and 6 passes into the box per game, while also tightening things up a bit on defense too.Also of note is the fact that the balance between the sides of the pitch is much more even here. Perhaps Hazard/Marcos Alonso had found his stride, or the team had been rejigged, or something else entirely.

Less important, but still interesting, is the fact that a huge 44% of their opponents’ passes into the box in this period came through their left (Chelsea’s right) half-space.

But then on into the second part of the bread in this particularly ill-tasting sandwich. Chelsea’s attack seems to dry up, and the defense starts getting leakier.

Again, just like the first part of the season, Chelsea’s right side is more involved in progressing the ball than the left, which is very strange.

So perhaps this ball progression is what led to the changes in Expected Goals, but what led to the changes in ball progression?

Well, schedule could be part of it. In the middle stretch, Chelsea played:

Swansea (H); Newcastle (H); West Ham (A); Huddersfield (A); Southampton (H); Everton (A); Brighton (H); Stoke (H); Arsenal (A)

Arsenal aside, right at the end of the stretch, no big teams in sight; very nice home games, and quite nice away games too.

That said, games 23-27 were Leicester (H); Brighton (A); Bournemouth (H); Watford (A); West Brom (H), and they only came away from those with 7 points.

The mystery continues…

By @EveryTeam_Mark

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