While the Chelsea players were hopefully enjoying a bit of downtime with six days between games, the football world wrapped themselves around mindless transfer rumours. At least now we’re in the window where we can focus on an upcoming game (mostly).
Chelsea host Burnley on Saturday, which is exactly the sort of scenario that puts anxiety into Blues fans: at home to the 15th-place team, one with a reputation for a compact, disciplined, physical defence. The Blues have lost three of their last four games against teams in 15th or below. But they have won three of their last four against Burnley. Of course, those three were at Turf Moor. The last two of these fixtures at Stamford Bridge were a loss and a draw. So there is no easy pattern. Let’s talk about something else.
1. Christian Pulisic
In the reverse fixture, Christian Pulisic scored his first Chelsea goal. He promptly scored his second and third, completing a natural, perfect and every other genre of hat trick. Pulisic scored a goal in each of Chelsea’s next two games, but has only been on the scoresheet once more since then, with a goal against Valencia in the Champions League.
As Travis alluded to in his critically acclaimed tweet, Pulisic’s role at Chelsea oscillates between extremes.
He was a regular in the lineup early in the season, but then was an unused substitute for four consecutive games and was out of the matchday squad for the fifth. He then eased his way back into the lineup before starting eight consecutive Premier League games, three Champions League games and a Carabao Cup tie. In the four games since that eighth Premier League game he has been an unused sub, a 67′ sub, left out of the squad and a starter.
We stand by our assessment from earlier in the season that Frank Lampard is perfectly managing Christian Pulisic’s first season in England. Despite his experience with Borussia Dortmund, the playing load and the pressures of sorts in the Premier League are higher, especially during the festive period.
The pattern here points to Pulisic starting another upswing in his playing time against an opponent who will always have a special place in the young American’s career.
2. Shoot your shot
Despite the reputation they have earned under Sean Dyche for rugged and nearly impenetrable defending, Burnley are vulnerable this season. They have allowed the fourth most goals in the Premier League, and much of that traces back to their goalkeeper.
The ratio of on target expected goals (oTxG) to total shots on goal is a useful way of looking at the quality of shots a team allows. The higher the ratio, the better quality of shots their goalkeeper has to deal with.
Burnley have the second-lowest ratio in the Premier League: the shots they give up are not high-quality scoring chances. This makes sense from what we know about Burnley. They defend compactly and rigorously, often with nine men in the box. They close down all the shooting angles and prevent their from passing or dribbling into the box. If their opponents want to shoot they have to try from long range or tight angles, shots Burnley are happy to permit.
Except they shouldn’t be. Burnley have the worst gap between their oTxG and actual goals conceded. They don’t give up many chances, but those chances they do allow disproportionately end with the ball in the back of the net.
Chelsea have the second-most shots in the Premier League, and Tammy Abraham has taken the fourth-most in the league. Unsurprisingly, he leads Chelsea in expected goals, followed by Christian Pulisic and Mason Mount. Their willingness to shoot is their best asset for this game. They will not get many chances to put the ball on target, and even fewer from good scoring positions. But they may not need many chances or any good chances to put Chelsea well ahead and en route for another win at home.
3. Transfer timing
We said we would mostly focus on the game, but it is still January so it’s hard not to mention transfers.
Chelsea rarely do any transfers in the middle of January. Over the last 15 years they do most their business in the first five days or the last five days, with much of it coming on deadline day.
Since 2010, the only players Chelsea have signed between the 5th and 25th of the month were Gary Cahill and Lucas Piazon in 2012, and Nemanja Matic in 2014. Meanwhile, January 31 signings include David Luiz (the first time), Fernando Torres, Kurt Zouma and Olivier Giroud.
Many things are different around Chelsea and how they handle such things these days, so this pattern may break down. But the Blues have missed a useful window to make a winter signing.
Chelsea had a full week between the fixtures against Brighton and Burnley, and have another full week between Burnley and Newcastle United. The schedule could not be any more friendly to integrating a new player into training without being a bit on the sidelines due to the squad’s preparation for the games. A new signing will probably not make an appearance in the squad for a few weeks after joining, so the more general training time he has, the sooner he will make his way into the lineup and then onto the pitch.
If Chelsea sign someone on deadline day this season, he will be a bit lonely on his first few days at Cobham as the Blues start their two week break after facing Leicester on February 1.
This new Blue would not have much time to train with his new teammates over the first half of the month. Then when the players return, they will be preparing for Manchester United, Tottenham and Bayern Munich in the span of eight days. That’s no time to integrate someone new.
The schedule increases the lag time between when Chelsea sign a new player and when they will put him into the team. Waiting another week or two for a purchase could add much more than that to the wait until he joins the XI.