What has happened to Chelsea centerback Benoit Badiashile?

Benoit Badiashile was the epitome of defensive solidity last season or was regarded that way by many Chelsea fans. This season, many of the same fans have changed the tune they're singing about him. The France centerback has already made one error leading to a goal and committed a penalty despite only playing seven league games. What's wrong with the former AS Monaco defender?
Liverpool FC v Chelsea FC - Premier League
Liverpool FC v Chelsea FC - Premier League / Clive Brunskill/GettyImages

Chelsea bought Benoit Badiashile from Ligue 1 club AS Monaco in January 2023 for €38 million. He was one of eight signings that walked through the door that month. He was on the bench for the games against Manchester City and Fulham, two games in which the Blues conceded six goals combined. Badiashile was kitting up by the time the next game came around, 10 days after penning his signature on the dotted line. The youngster went ahead to lead Chelsea to three consecutive clean sheets in the league, something that had only happened one other time that season.

This season, Badiashile doesn't seem to have the same effect. This is what has caused some fans to wonder why the youngster doesn't have the magic dust anymore. Was he overrated last season? Was he lucky? Is he suffering from a lack of confidence? It is telling that so many questions are being asked of a 22-year-old at a time when a team like Chelsea is struggling defensively.

Firstly, it should be noted that this is not the first time the France defender has managed the pressure of bringing defensive stability to a side. An 18-year-old Badiashile walked into a relegation-threatened Monaco, and well...Monaco is still in the top flight, isn't she?

Secondly, the perception of Badiashile's effect has changed, but that's mainly it. A perception. Is the youngster actually performing worse than he did last season? Or is the dysfunction around him so much that even he cannot calm it by himself?

Last season, one glaring effect Badiashile had on the team was his composure on the ball. This was reflected in his passing, and the team's ability to build out from the defense seamlessly. He still has that effect, but he is attempting fewer passes this season and fewer long balls. His long passing accuracy has dipped, along with his aerial win rate. Almost every defensive action he was making last season has gone up in volume and accuracy. Including attacking numbers.

He is attempting more tackles while completing a higher proportion of his attempted tackles. He is making more clearances per 90 minutes (per90) this season, per Sofascore (https://www.sofascore.com/player/benoit-badiashile/904827). He is also winning more ground duels, at a higher rate than he was last season. This shows that the youngster has simply had to do more defending than he did last season, and there's a reason for that.

Badiashile has also been forced to be more involved in possession this season, which is good, because he's the smartest passer Chelsea has. This intelligence in passing has been reflected again this season in his numbers. He is attempting 7.4 fewer passes than he did last season, and unsurprisingly, fewer long passes. His passing is more in forward directions this season too, as 40.4% of his passing distance is progressive, compared to 37% last season, according to FBref. Badiashile has also been more involved with shots, and goals. How? He averaged 1.19 Shot-Creating Actions per90 (SCA p90) last season, this season it has jumped to 1.8. His Goal-Creating Actions per90 has also jumped from 0 to 0.33.

Clearly, Badiashile is still doing many things right, but why does this seem not to have any effect on the team's defense? It's because the team is so open defensively. The Blues are attacked a lot more often, so Badiashile and the other defenders are doing more in defense, but are also conceding more goals.

Chelsea has played 22 league games this campaign, and Badiashile has played just 7 of those 22. Chelsea's average expected goals against (xGA) in the games the Blues No. 5 has played is 1.48. The average xGA of all 22 Premier League games played by Pochettino's men this season? 1.48. This means that regardless of who is on the pitch, the Blues are expected to concede the same amount of goals.

Enough of Badiashile scrutiny. Let's take a look at Chelsea's numbers. The Blues were bad defensively last season. According to FBRef, they allowed 11.5 shots, 4.16 shots on target, 1.38 xGA, and conceded 1.16 goals per game. It was really bad. This season? It's worse. Much worse.

CFC has allowed 13.1 shots, 5.05 shots on target, 1.48 xGA, and conceded an outrageous 1.59 goals per game. This means that Pochettino's defenders have to do much more than defenders on the team did last season. No defender has looked good this season, because they spend most of many games putting out fires.

Chelsea is leaking goals every game because the team is poor structurally. Singling out one member of the backline for scrutiny is futile and misleading. Even though there are many things the defenders could be doing much better, there's a bigger issue in midfield, and until that is solved, Pochettino's Blues will continue to concede goals at the rate they currently are.

So what has happened to Badiashile? Nothing. Despite the fact that he had been injured for five months and only returned in December, he has been fine despite being thrown in the deep end. If the team doesn't look as solid as they did with him last season, it's because the issues are much bigger than him.