Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Chelsea Then And Now - A Numbers Comparison

Our 0-1 midweek victory against City, with all the joy it brought, was nothing short of a shock. To pretty much everyone. Far from parking the bus, Chelsea ran City over with it. The scoreline ended up flattering the home side a bit as a combination of the woodwork and Ramires denied Chelsea a bigger margin. This was without a doubt one of Mourinho’s finest moments as a Chelsea manager (and there have been some fine ones), seemingly highlighting how much we have improved since last season. But what do the numbers say about that?

Total goals scored by matchday

That red line's in no hurry to go anywhere, is it? It trails the blue line for the most part, and the small phase where it is ahead coincides with our wild games against Stoke and Sunderland. A clash with least season's 8-0 win against Aston Villa brings it back to earth, and it is set to stay there. With our attack last season driven by a record-motivated Lampard and the devastating Juan Mata, we scored 75 league goals, our second-highest total in the Roman era. We shouldn't have been expecting us to outdo our scoring of last season, as we are presently a great team in many other ways.

Total goals conceded by matchday

Defence is where the difference begins to really kick in. The goals conceded totals go neck and neck till around the halfway point of the season, where the red line resolutely falls flat and blue one takes off. 6 clean sheets in the last 8 Premier League matches (and it is certainly no shame letting in one each against Liverpool and Manchester United) tells quite a story. As of this moment, Javier Hernandez is the only player to have scored against us in 2014.

The red line’s ground-hugging begins right after our game against Stoke, which was the last game in which Juan Mata played 90 minutes for Chelsea. The red line lies low but spikes up around the time Mata got a run of starts. It wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest that Mourinho’s decision to permanently cull the Spaniard in favour of complete pressing is what has caused a nosedive in our conceding rate and treated fans to premium results (Faced Arsenal, Liverpool, United and City since. Scored 6, conceded 2, 10 out of 12 points won) in the period that followed. In the 9 games where Mata didn’t play a single minute this season, Chelsea conceded just 3 (perfectly forgivable, given that they were scored by City, Liverpool and Man United. We won all the 3 games anyway) and picked up 23 out of 27 points with draws at the Emirates and Old Trafford the only blots on a perfect record. While the Spaniard was a devastating attack force last season, we seem to do better defensively without him around.

Total points won by matchday

The effect of improved defending on our league performance is telling. We are 7 points better off than we were at this stage last season, although it’s clear that we’ve had to wait a while before feeling good about this season while the previous edition wasted no time getting us heady (but eventually brought us down). Table positions are decided by points first and foremost, so the decline in scoring rate compared to last season is nothing to worry about. The City juggernaut has 24 more goals than us in the league, an entire goal a game better, but aren’t exactly light years ahead. We have 53 points from 24 matches now, which is very close to our position at this stage in the 2009-10 season, the last time we won the league. We had 55 points after 24 rounds as league leaders at the time. Coincidentally, the current league leaders Arsenal have 55 points from 24 matches.

There are other interesting numbers. Of the 44 goals we’ve scored in the league this season, 25% (11) have come from our strikers, 59.1% (26) from midfielders and 11.36% (5) from defenders. Last season, the distribution was alarming - Strikers 14.67% (11), Midfielders 62.67% (47), Defenders 18.67% (14) out of 75 league goals. Forget being the driving force of the attack, our strikers had a higher goal total than our defenders for only 2 weeks (28 and 29) in the entire league season last time. We also didn’t have quality midfield depth last season, so this serves to highlight the previously mentioned dependence on Mata and Lampard for goals last season.

The contribution from up front has increased tellingly this season, thanks in no small part to the addition of Samuel Eto’o. Torres has been bereft of confidence for most of his Chelsea career, and the pressure of carrying Chelsea for most of last season - after Sturridge was bizarrely marginalized - might have been too much. Eto’o has brought in experience, a good big-game instinct and uncanny ability to nick the ball off the keeper. The odd hat trick against defending champions is always handy. Our strikers managed 11 league goals in all last season, a total equalled already this season against Manchester United at Stamford Bridge.

Both in terms of goalscoring and defending, it has been much more of a team effort this season, which is the result Mourinho always aims to achieve with his teams. With better depth, more balance and a more aggressive off-the-ball approach, Chelsea have become a points machine and expect to win every game. It seems like the Portuguese can do no wrong. Just like the old days.

Anfield will host Chelsea’s only away game against teams in the current top four, with a trip to Villa Park the only other away match against a current top half team. With Arsenal about to run into a tough set of fixtures and Manchester City having completed all their home games against the top 7, the season is entering a very interesting phase for Chelsea, whose fans have good reason to be optimistic despite Jose’s best efforts to downplay Chelsea’s title credentials.

I for one agree with Jose. Despite improvement, we lack the firepower up front to compete all the way. However, the eggs have hatched and Jose has done a great job rearing wonderful little horses (Eggs and horses are his analogies, not mine. I am aware of the biology). Let’s hope that the ponies are fed well to outrun everyone next season.