Chelsea’s Werner may be profligate, but that isn’t the problem (Pt. 2)

Picking up from where we left off in part one, Chelsea created 2.4 big chances per game in the 2020/21 league season (which we’ll refer to in this piece as “this season”). Werner gathered a cumulative xG of 13.43 this season, but he missed 18 big chances and scored just six league goals. Chelsea did not hit 60 league goals this season as a team, mainly being held afloat by its defense and goalkeeper. For comparison, the Blues created 2.8 big chances per game last season. Their highest goal scorer in 2019/20, Tammy Abraham, scored 15 league goals and missed 22 big chances from a cumulative xG of 18.08.

Werner’s shots per game numbers dropped from his last season at Leipzig by 36 percent and his xG dropped by a whopping 44 percent. Patrick Bamford and Mohamed Salah missed more chances than Werner this season, but even they had cumulative xG of 37 percent and 51 percent respectively, both more than Werner. In case you were wondering, missing chances don’t reduce one’s xG, just as converting chances doesn’t increase one’s xG either. Only being provided with chances and taking shots increase xG. Thus, Werner’s missed chances aren’t the reason his xG is quite low for this season, that’s part of a more important problem. Of course, Werner can’t just take pot shots from anywhere to increase his xG, this is where the team comes in. The Blues need to constantly create good goal scoring chances, not just for Werner, but for others, as well.

Comparing last season to the recently concluded campaign, it’s not a debate that Chelsea has a better and more talented squad now.

How come Chelsea is creating significantly less chances?

Werner’s movements will help create a lot of big chances. We know this because we’ve seen it under Frank Lampard, Thomas Tuchel and Julian Nagelsmann in the Premier League, Champions League and Bundesliga. The Blues’ decision making in the final third this season has been more than questionable. Creating as high as six or seven big chances in some games and then creating as low as zero or one just as frequently. This is where the team is culpable, two things can be true at once. Yes, Werner misses a lot of chances he should be converting, but he has also not gotten as many opportunities as necessary to expect him to score even half as much as he did at Leipzig.

To go back to my earlier freak example from part one: a player who gets lots of good chances to score will probably miss a lot of big chances, but will score a lot too. This doesn’t apply to just Werner either. Robert Lewandowski—one of the world’s most lethal strikers—misses a lot of clear cut chances, but scores a lot, as well. Bayern Munich created 3.5 big chances per game this season, and the Poland international gathered an xG of 32.08, scoring 41 goals (!) and missing 25 big chances. It goes without saying, Lewandowski is key in creating those chances. In the six games he was absent for Bayern, the German giants created 2.3 big chances per game. Meanwhile, in the six games he was involved in at the end of the season, the Bavarians created 4.3 big chances per match. Obviously, six games is a small sample size, but Bayern clearly created more with him in the side. Just like Leipzig created more with Werner in the team, just like Dortmund creates more with Erling Haaland in the squad. Just like Chelsea should create a lot more with Werner in the starting XI.

In this section, the big chances refer to non-penalty big chances. According to SofaScore, Lewandowski converted 21 big chances in the 2020/21 season where he scored 41 league goals. Werner, in the 2019/20 season for Leipzig, scored 15 big chances in the season he scored 28 league goals. Lewandowski missed 24 big chances in the 2020/21 season, while Werner missed 21 big chances. This means that Bayern created 45 big chances for Lewandowski and he converted about 47 percent of them. In his last season in the Bundesliga, Werner converted about 42 percent of the big chances created for him. Note: this is big chance conversion, not even shot conversion or shot-on-target conversion; it’s not even up to 50 percent for arguably the best striker in the world in his most prolific season.

Why then are these strikers still able to score despite missing so many?

These aren’t isolated numbers either. It’s all of them. Romelu Lukaku, who many feel should lead Chelsea’s line next season, converted 14 big chances in Serie A last season en route to the Scudetto. He missed 19 big chances, that’s a 42 percent big chance conversion rate. That’s just Lukaku, silly me—let’s talk about Cristiano Ronaldo. He scored 17 big chances and he missed 25 big chances. Oh look at that, that’s a 40 percent big chance conversion rate for one of the most prolific footballers of the last decade. Abraham scored nine big chances in the 2019/20 season, he missed 22 big chances. That’s a 29 percent big chance conversion rate for Chelsea’s No. 9.

Haaland is the only player this season that converted more than 50 percent of his big chances of all the strikers in this conversation. Haaland converted 20 big chances, missing 17 (a 54 percent big chance conversion rate). We can appreciate that conversion rate now because we know how difficult it is to conversion as much big chances as that.

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Werner is obviously not blameless though. He converted five big chances in the current season and missed 18 big chances. That’s a 22 percent big chance conversion rate on 23 total big chances. 22 percent is unacceptably low as a big chance conversion rate, but even if he had a conversion rate of his most prolific league season ever, he’d have finished the season with 10 league goals. 10 league goals would still be poor for a striker of his level. That’s the point, that’s why as much responsibility is being put on the team. This is why it’s clear that the other nine outfield players (no need to include Edouard Mendy) are not creating nearly enough chances. The Blues need to create a lot more opportunities for the German and for their attackers in general.

These strikers all have what we’d agree to be high goal tallies (frequently, perhaps), but the statistics have shown that these goal tallies are dependent on more than just how clinical the strikers are. Haaland had access to 34 big chances in a season he scored 27 league goals, Werner had access to 36 big chances in a season he scored 28 league goals. Lewandowski had access to 45 big chances in a season he scored 41 league goals. Top strikers play for the top clubs for a reason. This is because the top clubs create the most and the best chances, consistently.

You may wonder why this piece seems to focus on all the chances not being created for Werner, rather than the chances Werner is missing. This is because Werner is already being crucified for missed chances, he’s already being judged on his missed chances. This is silly and unfair because strikers are to be judged on goals, every one of them misses chances, but they score more because they get access to more chances. Werner’s missed chances can’t be evaluated in isolation. Lewandowski actually missed more big chances than Werner had access to. Werner would have had to produce a big chance conversion rate of 100 percent—as well as score five more half-chances—to equal his tally from last season, and many undoubtedly would have expected a high goal return for the German.

Werner is not the problem, neither is Abraham. Werner only features more in the side because he’s more versatile and he can switch sides with other members of Chelsea’s front three and vice versa. Werner’s movement and runs have created countless chances for the Blues, without even mentioning his penalties won and his creation numbers. If Chelsea wants Werner to score a lot of goals, like he was doing before the club bought him, it has to create a lot more chances—big chances.

Inter Milan, Borussia Dortmund, Juventus and Bayern Munich created 3.2, 3.1, 3.5 and 3.5 big chances per game respectively. Chelsea created 2.4 big chances per contest in comparison. This tells us almost everything we need to know. Chelsea’s strikers, board and fans envy teams who create a lot more chances. The Blues have the tools to create as many. They lost to Aston Villa, in a match many fans would have remembered as a difficult game, but they created seven big chances in that match. Clearly, it can be done. It’s all about the decisions made in the middle and final third.

All big chance statistics are thanks to SofaScore.