Chelsea: The alternatives are as important as top targets

FLORENCE, ITALY - MAY 08: Dusan Vlahlvic of ACF Fiorentina looks on during the Serie A match between ACF Fiorentina and SS Lazio at Stadio Artemio Franchi on May 8, 2021 in Florence, Italy. Sporting stadiums around Italy 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 Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images)
FLORENCE, ITALY - MAY 08: Dusan Vlahlvic of ACF Fiorentina looks on during the Serie A match between ACF Fiorentina and SS Lazio at Stadio Artemio Franchi on May 8, 2021 in Florence, Italy. Sporting stadiums around Italy 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 Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images) /

Chelsea is the Champion of Europe, and somehow this has made many feel that their status will make transfer deals easier to complete. If anything, it makes it more difficult. The transfer window closes in 27 days and Chelsea is yet to sign a player for the starting eleven. Chelsea doesn’t need much, but that’s the other problem, when your needs are few but the solution to these needs are rare, transfer windows are a nightmare.

It’s well known that while Chelsea played very well under Thomas Tuchel last season, they had problems finishing their chances. They created seven big chances against Real Madrid in the second leg of the Champions League semifinal, missing five and scoring only two goals, winning 2-0. They also created seven big chances against Aston Villa on Championship Sunday, missing six of them and scoring only once, losing the game 2-1. The Blues knew they needed to address the center forward problem in the transfer window.

The problem? Very good strikers are rare. Elite strikers are even rarer. World class strikers that aren’t in their mid-30s are not up to five in the world market. The Chelsea fans and Chelsea hierarchy knew this. Every member of the Chelsea community wanted a world class center forward signing. To them that means Harry Kane, Romelu Lukaku or Erling Haaland in Chelsea Blue. The clubs these players are currently contracted to are well aware of the talent and ability of the strikers on their roster. They are also aware of the threat Chelsea possesses if they get their hands on a lethal striker.

It is therefore no surprise that these clubs are determined to get a fee that satisfies their valuation of the player, whether you agree with that valuation or not. The latest report states that Chelsea are preparing a third bid in the vicinity of £102m for the Belgian marksman. Other reports claim Tottenham Hotspur’s Daniel Levy would not sell Harry Kane for less than £130m. Dortmund has said for weeks that they would not commence negotiation for transfer for Haaland except they get a £150m base offer.

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It is no surprise that all fees are similar, despite Haaland being comfortably seven years younger than the other two strikers. Spurs and Inter know Chelsea has £100m+ to spend on Haaland, they know that Haaland is Chelsea’s first choice, they therefore would not want to sell themselves short, especially with the knowledge that Chelsea were going to spend more than whatever is offered, elsewhere.

This has put Chelsea into a tight corner as they either have to simply meet Dortmund’s evaluation of £150m+ whatever add-ons will follow or overpay for Lukaku or Kane. None of these fees are easy to cough in one go, not even for the Champions of Europe. Chelsea is understandably hesitant in producing that sum of money for one player, albeit a truly special, prolific goal scorer.

As difficult as it is for Chelsea fans to accept, there’s a point in every transfer pursuit you forget about it and pull out of negotiations. Only the buying club can decide what that point is for them. The club must access whatever fee is being asked and decide if it’s feasible for the business. Is it a financial hit they can recover from in quick enough time? “Just pay the money and get him” is very easy to say from the outside looking in, not very easy to do when you’re the one in charge of transfers.

This is where alternatives come in. Many fans have referred to alternatives as though they’re unwanted rejects. Any manager/club that goes into a transfer window with top targets and no alternatives, is very much prepared to leave with nothing. Transfer targets have attributes, qualities that make them your top target. Those qualities and attributes are present in other cheaper players, sometimes partially present, sometimes to a relatively lower quality.

According to WhoScored, Chelsea created 14.5 chances per game last season, on par with Inter (14.6) and Borussia Dortmund (14.5). This is about the only thing that Chelsea shares with those two clubs. Inter scored 89 league goals, Dortmund scored 75. Chelsea scored 58, which is telling considering all three teams create a similar number of chances. Of these chances Chelsea creates 2.4 big chances per game, either through player skill or opposition errors. Dortmund creates 3.1 big chances per game, Inter create 3.1 big chances per game.

According to Sofascore, Chelsea’s Timo Werner got 23 big chances last season. He missed 18 and converted 5 non penalty big chances. Inter’s Romelu Lukaku got 33 big chances, he missed 19 and converted 14 non-penalty big chances. Haaland got 39 big chances, missing 19 and scoring 20 non-penalty big chances. Haaland is one of few strikers in European football that has a big chance conversion rate of over 50 percent.

Looking at the above numbers, it’s instantly clear where Chelsea’s problems lie. They need someone to either convert a higher proportion of their big chances, or someone to score more from half chances. The best candidate for the former is Erling Haaland, who boasts a non-penalty big chance conversion rate of 51 percent for the 2020/21 league season. Lukaku boasts a 42% conversion rate for his 2020/21 league winning season. Werner? 22%. It is important to note that Chelsea will create more big chances per game with Haaland in the side, hence giving the Norwegian more chances to finish. At the same time, Haaland also boasts more goals from half chances (five) than the other two.

It is no surprise that Haaland is Chelsea’s first choice target. In a situation where Chelsea cannot make headway with Dortmund over the Haaland deal, they could turn to some alternatives that promise similar, if not the same results, or potential to produce the same results. Luis Muriel and Dusan Vlahovic are capable alternatives.

Luis Muriel’s Atalanta created 16.3 chances per game last season, scoring 90 goals. Of these chances, they create 3.1 big chances per game. Muriel would be an extremely valuable asset in scoring half chances. Chelsea creates a lot of half chances and a fair few big chances, so if they can’t get someone to be more clinical, they should get someone who can score a lot from half chances. Muriel got 22 big chances, he missed 11 of them and scored 11 non penalty big chances. That’s not what makes Muriel interesting though, what’s interesting is that he scored nine goals from half chances. Nine goals from half chances are a lot, and this is even made more perfect by the fact that he boasts a big chance conversion rate of 50 percent in the 2020/21 season.

41% of Muriel’s goals being from half chances is definitely cause for excitement. That’s much higher than Haaland (19%), Lukaku (17%) and even Lewandowski (29%).

Vlahovic would be the candidate next in line and would be a valuable asset in “doing more with less”, if you will. Vlahovic played for ACF Fiorentina who finished 14th in the league. He got 23 big chances, missing 12 and scoring 11. Fiorentina created 9.8 chances per game though, significantly less than any other team in this piece. Fiorentina also created 1.7 big chances per game. With limited resources, it is full credit to Fiorentina and Vlahovic that he ended the season with the fourth highest goal tally in the league. He scored an impressive 21 goals, despite Fiorentina creating relatively few chances per game.

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Alternatives aren’t a bad thing. Every self-respecting club should have alternatives to their top targets. Muriel is a very good option because he’s 30 and is playing a supporting role at Atalanta, so they’d likely not be price him so highly. Vlahovic is a good option mainly because he’d produce as good a big chance conversion rate as 48 percent (which is very good) and with the price the Blues could get him for, it would be relatively lower risk. With Vlahovic on Chelsea’s roster the club can still go after the Norwegian computer and not worry about unbalancing the squad. Vlahovic is also a good option because depending on how he does, the Blues may not even need to go after Haaland in the summer.