Set pieces, midfield balance and why Chelsea should secure Joey Veerman’s signature

Chelsea has appointed a new manager Enzo Maresca and the club hierarchy is already working closely with him to get reinforcements for the squad, especially in the midfield.

Training Holland -Training Men
Training Holland -Training Men / Soccrates Images/GettyImages

Chelsea’s midfield was unbalanced last season, and if Maresca is planning on using a 3-man midfield, there is a midfield profile he is missing. 

Chelsea has Moises Caicedo, who is the player most suitable to sit deep and dictate play. Conor Gallagher is needed for his intelligence, tenacity, and industry.

The third midfielder in the three should ideally be someone who is a creator. Someone who can share the creative burden with Cole Palmer, or perhaps even be the chief creator himself. 

The Blues created many big chances last season relative to the rest of the Premier League teams, but not enough shots as a whole, as the west Londoners ranked 9th for shots taken in the league, with AFC Bournemouth taking two more shots than Mauricio Pochettino’s men. 

Chelsea took 14.1 shots per 90 minutes (per90), and with the proportion of the ball the Blues commanded every game, it should have been way higher. This low volume can be attributed to the club not having enough consistent shot creators from midfield in open play. 

Chelsea’s best shot creator from midfield was Enzo Fernandez, who made 3.1 shot-creating actions (SCAs) per90, and 2.8 of those were from open play passes. 

Even Chelsea’s best shot creator overall - Cole Palmer - contributed 5.6 SCAs per90, and four of those were from open play passes. The next highest contributor of SCAs after Palmer was Noni Madueke with 2.9 SCAs from open play. 

This is one of the reasons Chelsea should target PSV Eindhoven’s Joey Veerman. Veerman rose through the ranks in the Eredivisie, having started out his career at Volendam in the Eerste Divisie at 17 years old, moved to Heerenveen at 20 years old, then moved to PSV at 22. Veerman had an incredible 2022/23 season, but he absolutely blew up in the 2023/24 season.

In the just-concluded league season, Veerman made an incredible 9.5 SCAs per90, with 5.2 of them coming from open play passes. This is made all the more incredible as he did this while being one of the two midfielders in a pivot. 

Veerman never played as an attacking midfielder in his 29 games, but he controlled almost every game he played regarding shot production. A key advantage of the Dutchman is that he can very well coexist with the Blues’ current best shot creator if Maresca plays a three man midfield. 

Veerman also played a crucial role in PSV’s ball progression, averaging 11.8 progressive passes per90, ranking a close second for his team. He ranked second for passes into the final third in the Eredivisie last season (278) and ranked first for passes into the penalty area (82) despite only playing 29 out of 34 available games.

This is considering that his chance creation numbers have not been scrutinized yet, as he was also quite productive at creating direct goal scoring chances. 

Veerman created the second most chances in the 2022/23 season (100), creating 3.1 chances per game. In the 2023/24 season, he created the most chances in the league (134), averaging 4.6 chances per game.

Yes, I know that those numbers are influenced by the quality of the teams in the league, but it still takes an incredible creator to put up ridiculous chance creation numbers like that, regardless of environment.

As a central midfielder, Veerman controlled so much of the ball that he even completed more passes per90 than any other player in the league, despite not being a tempo controller. 

This would suit Chelsea perfectly, as Maresca would want to control possession, which means that Chelsea will have more of the ball, in most of their games. This playing style would see the Blues central midfielders control a lot of the ball, and that would give Veerman the opportunity to control proceedings from deep and start attacks. 

Veerman will also boost Chelsea in threat from set pieces. The club’s set pieces issues come to light when you look closely at the set piece numbers for the 2023/24 season, especially in comparison to other clubs.

Last season, Chelsea averaged slightly more possession (58.9%) than Arsenal (58.4%), and took 17.2 set pieces (corners and free kicks) per game, compared to Arsenal’s 17.4. 

Despite this similarity in numbers, Arsenal ended up creating 150 shots from set pieces, compared to Chelsea’s 103. Arsenal got 1% more set piece opportunities, but created 46% more shots. 

That disparity is not just down to Arsenal’s prowess either, as Manchester City also got 6% more set piece opportunities and created 58% more shots from set pieces. Liverpool got 2% more set piece opportunities and took 95% more shots than the Blues. 

These differences in ratio highlights more how poor Chelsea was from creating shots from set pieces, rather than how good the above-mentioned clubs were, even though some of them were excellent in their own right.

Veerman will contribute heavily in solving these problems with his impeccable set piece deliveries. The 25-year-old Netherlands international ranked 6th for SCAs from dead balls in the Eredivisie in the 2022/23 season, and a comfortable first in the 2023/24 season. 

To put Veerman’s crossing ability into context, he and Man City’s Kevin De Bruyne attempted 7.3 crosses per game, but where De Bruyne completed 26% of his, Veerman completed 45%. 

Veerman would undoubtedly be a key player for Maresca for many years to come, if the Blues hierarchy can secure his signature. His ability to start several games alongside other Chelsea top creators and key players makes him that much more valuable. 

Chelsea’s raw shot creation was poor last season, both in open play and on set pieces, and with Cole Palmer topping the chance creation chart with a less-than-stellar 2.1 key passes per game, Veerman is needed to carry the load of chance creation, while Palmer focuses more on goals and assists.