Chelsea has a scoring problem, not a striker problem

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 08: Timo Werner of Chelsea reacts after Jordan Pickford of Everton denies him from scoring during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Everton at Stamford Bridge on March 08, 2021 in London, England. Sporting stadiums around the UK remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. (Photo by John Sibley - Pool/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 08: Timo Werner of Chelsea reacts after Jordan Pickford of Everton denies him from scoring during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Everton at Stamford Bridge on March 08, 2021 in London, England. Sporting stadiums around the UK remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. (Photo by John Sibley - Pool/Getty Images) /

Timo Werner arrived from RB Leipzig in the summer of the 2019/20 season for £48 million after scoring 28 league goals in 34 appearances. Chelsea went after Werner in a bid to score more goals and subsequently, achieve more each season. The Blues have had a problem converting chances in recent years, that’s no secret.

On the surface, Werner was going to be an excellent buy. He ranked second in league goals scored for Bundesliga behind only Robert Lewandowski. It is already eight months into the new season and Werner only has five goals to his name in the Premier League. It gets worse though. The Blues’ highest league goal scorer is an out-of-favor Tammy Abraham, who hasn’t started any of the last six league matches. Others nearing the top of the list include central midfielder Jorginho, who has six league goals from seven penalties, and attacking midfielder, Mason Mount, who has six league goals from open play. The club has played 31 league matches this season—are you beginning to see the problem?

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It’s becoming increasingly likely that maybe Chelsea was going about trying to solve its scoring problem the wrong way. The Blues are reportedly interested in signing hot European talent Erling Braut Haaland and former Chelsea marksman Romelu Lukaku—both firing for their clubs on all cylinders. It is important that the Blues get to the root of the issue with the attack or they risk spending even more money to fix something that is potentially not broken.

Before looking into these number, we need to clear up something early on: some strikers are more clinical than others. A high volume of goals doesn’t necessarily mean that a striker is clinical. There are a lot of factors that determine how often a player will be able to score, or will actually score.

One of the reasons Werner hasn’t been scoring enough may simply be that he’s not taking enough shots per game. This one is tricky though, as he shouldn’t just take shots from anywhere on the pitch for the sake of it. This means that the Blues don’t create enough chances for Werner, and as such, he doesn’t take nearly enough shots. There’s data to support this too, as Werner takes 2.65 shots per 90.

The only other players who take fewer shots in the top seven of the league scoring chart are Dominic Calvert-Lewin (2.6) and Heung-Min Son (1.97), but Son is one of the most clinical finishers in the league with a 31 percent shot conversion rate. He’s the anomaly. The lowest shot taker on this list—other than Son—is Alexandre Lacazette (2.13). Compared to the others, there’s Harry Kane (4.01), Mohamed Salah (3.52) and Patrick Bamford (3.25). Of all these players, the lowest cumulative expected goals (xG) per 90 minutes is Fernandes at 0.45. He’s a midfielder, so that’s understandable. The next lowest for a striker is Bamford at 0.52.

None of this tells us anything yet, until we take a closer look.

Werner has 0.47 xG per 90, and at 2.65 shots per 90, that makes it 0.18 xG per shot. The lowest xG per shot amongst the top Premier League scorers is Bruno Fernandes (0.14) and the highest is Calvert-Lewin (0.24). Every other goal scorer in that chat has a lower xG per shot than Werner, though negligible. This means that Werner is taking shots as good as the Premier League’s top scorers, so what then is wrong? He’s not taking enough of these shots. Of the strikers under scrutiny, Kane takes the most shots per 90 (4.01), followed by Salah (3.52). The lower shot takers in that group are Son (1.97) followed by second lowest, Calvert-Lewin (2.6). Interestingly, Kane and Salah lead the goals chart too—at 21 and 19 respectively. Meanwhile, Calvert-Lewin and Son trail the group (14). Is it coincidence that the lower shot takers in that group have less goals? Maybe.

It becomes clearer where Chelsea as a team has perhaps not helped Werner; total xG over the course of the season. Kane leads the xG chat for the Premier League (18.77), followed by Salah (16.19). Behind them is Jamie Vardy (16.10), Calvert-Lewin (15.76), Bamford (14.84) and Lacazette (11.9). Of the top seven xG leaders, five of them are in the top seven goal scorers. Then there’s Werner, whose xG after 29 games is 11.16. Yes, Werner has missed a lot of big chances, but this chart tells us that even if Werner has been scoring on par with his xG, he’d only have 11 or 12 league goals this seasons. That is still really poor!

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The Blues’ scoring problems now begin to come to light. Werner accumulated an xG of 23.45 last season in the league, overperforming and scoring 28 league goals in 34 appearances. This season, he has accumulated an xG of 11.16 over 29 games. There’s clearly a problem, but where does this problem lie? It’s clear that Werner takes good enough shots, just not often enough of them. If Werner was taking as many shots as Salah per 90, his xG per 90 would be up to 0.63 and his xG this season would be increased to about 15.10. Chelsea has to get Werner on the ball in the final third more, and Werner needs to get into positions to take more shots, as well. We cannot ignore his wastefulness though, and ignoring it is perhaps what got Chelsea into this situation in the first place.

Werner isn’t a clinical striker, so for him to score a lot of goals, he needs a lot of chances. What that also means is that the more chances he gets, the more he misses, but also the more he scores. Werner missed 21 big chances last season in 34 games. If you think that’s bad, note that Robert Lewandowski also missed 25 big chances in 31 games. These numbers look bad until you look at the number of goals they scored. Werner scored 28 goals still, while Lewandowski scored 34. How were they able to miss so much and still score so much?

Leipzig got 3.5 big chances per game and Bayern Munich got 4.5 big chances per game. While the usage of the word “got” may be a bit awkward, it’s necessary because big chances can be handed to you by opposition errors, so they won’t always count as big chances created. That’s a high number of clear-cut chances per match, which means the clubs have had even more non-clear-cut opportunities. The only teams in Europe’s top five leagues that had more big chances per game than Leipzig are Paris Saint Germain (5.0) and Manchester City (3.7).

Leipzig missed 86 percent of all of its big chances last season. It wasn’t a problem for it though, as it got 90 big chances and scored 81 goals in the 2019/20 league season. The more chances a team creates, the more big chances it’ll create. Bayern got 130 big chances, missing 87 of them (67 percent), but still scored 100 goals in the league season. There’s more. PSG got 104 big chances last season, the Parisians missed 80 percent of them, but still scored 75 goals in 28 league games (2.7 goals per game). In fact, PSG’s two top scorers in the league last season both missed more big chances than they scored goals. Yes, not all their big chances were created by them, but forcing opposition errors is also another way of creating chances, just not a sustainable way.

The reason these top clubs are able to still top their scoring charts—despite not having clinical strikers—is because they create so many chances that even converting a small fraction of them will yield a large amount of goals. Of course, they often miss over 75 percent of their big chances, so that means they score from many non-big chances. What that also means is that these top teams take so many shots from decent positions that yield goals.

Top teams don’t have strikers with high scoring numbers because they have the most clinical strikers, they have high scoring strikers mainly because they create a lot of chances. Chelsea has got 72 big chances this season, missing 42 of them (58 percent). The Blues have only scored 50 times in the league this season, compared to 81 goals that were scored when Leipzig missed 86 percent of their big chances last season. Also, the Blues have gotten 2.3 big chances per game this season, which isn’t good enough for a team that aspires to reach the levels of Bayern and Man City.

The best strikers thrive in teams that create a high volume of chances relative to other teams in their league. Chelsea needs to create a lot more chances, as well as big chances, and it needs to take more shots per game. If the Blues do not increase their number of big chances and chances created per game, they’ll be looking to extremely clinical, impossibly high goal conversion rate strikers, in order to match the levels they aspire to be at.

The striker with the highest league shots-to-goal ratio right now is Haaland (37 percent), and it will cost Chelsea close to £200 million to complete that deal. Haaland would also need to be in a team with a volume of chance creation in order to get the best out of him, as Haaland’s Borussia Dortmund get 3.1 big chances per game. He takes 3.3 shots per 90, a total xG of 16.81 and has an xG per 90 of 0.77 at 0.23 xG per shot. Lukaku? He has takes 3.19 shots per 90, has a total xG of 19.04 and an xG per 90 of 0.74 at 0.23 per shot. It seems that whichever way Chelsea looks, it needs to start creating a lot more chances, regardless of the strikers it has on its roster. Every party would benefit from this.

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What do you think Chelsea needs to do to start scoring more goals? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter!