It wasn’t a great weekend for Chelsea.
We’re now into the last week of September, and we could have used that opening sentence in any one of the 38 previous weeks of 2023.
Let us rephrase. It’s not been a great year for Chelsea.
They’ve taken just 25 points in the 2023 calendar year, a figure that is the joint-lowest among all ever-present Premier League clubs over that timeframe:
Graham Potter and Frank Lampard have overseen the majority of matches over that period, but even the appointment of a top-class manager in Mauricio Pochettino hasn’t yet reversed Chelsea’s fortunes. They languish in 14th place, have failed to score in their last three matches, and only two sides – newly promoted Burnley (four) and Luton (three) – have scored fewer goals than their five. Chelsea have an enormous injury list too, which is only adding to Pochettino’s growing problems.
Despite this, it was reported earlier this week that Pochettino retains the full support of co-owners Todd Boehly and Behdad Eghbali, with the first-team staff and the Chelsea owners confident results will soon start to reflect the data they are carefully studying.
What data might that be? On the surface, things look like they’re going terribly for Chelsea.
But the underlying numbers paint a slightly rosier picture. According to our Expected Points model, which essentially distils the underlying numbers into an ‘expected’ league table, Boehly and Eghbali might have a point.
Our Expected Points model simulates the number of goals scored by each side in each match based on the xG value of every shot taken. It then uses the simulated number of goals to determine the match outcome (win/draw/loss). Each match is simulated 10,000 times. The expected points for each team in each match can then be calculated based on the proportion of simulations they win/draw/lose.
This is of course not an exact science, as expected goals data doesn’t include a lot of factors, such as game state and dangerous periods of possession that don’t lead to shots. Nevertheless, it’s still interesting to look at the data that Chelsea’s board could be looking at themselves.
So, we ran the Expected Points model on the current Premier League season and this is what it shows.
Yes, your eyes aren’t lying to you. Based on this model, Chelsea should be fourth. They are, of course, actually 14th and their 10-place difference in the model is the largest of any team in the division. That’s way ahead of even Brentford and Everton (five places) who have the next-highest difference between where they actually are, and where they ‘ought’ to be.
The expected points table suggests that Chelsea’s underlying performances so far this season have been worth about 12 points. They’ve only taken five points so far, and their points differential of -6.96 is the biggest negative difference in the league ahead of Everton (-5.30) and Luton (-5.12).
On the flip side, the expected points model suggests that West Ham (+8 places) and Fulham (+7) have been the biggest beneficiaries of variance in the early season.
Defensively, there are no real reasons for concern for Chelsea. They’ve conceded just 6.4 expected goals which is the third-lowest rate in the league and have conceded in line with that (six times).
It’s a different story at the attacking end of the pitch where Chelsea are suffering from a team-wide finishing malaise. Remarkably, they’ve actually “won” the expected goals count in every single one of their opening six games of the season, a feat that only Manchester City have been able to replicate in this fledgling season.
But they simply have not been able to take their chances. Chelsea have underperformed compared to their expected goals by a Premier League high of 6.6 and Sunday’s defeat to Aston Villa was a familiar story – they could have come away from the game with much more than they did.
To put that underperformance into context, no side in Europe’s top five leagues has underperformed their underlying attacking numbers as much as Chelsea’s 6.6 figure so far in 2022-23.
If every single player finished chances like a perfectly average Premier League player, Chelsea would be in the Champions League spots. We’d be talking about them in a very, very different light. In a different world, Enzo Fernández scores the penalty against West Ham on the opening weekend and Chelsea win 2-1. Perhaps Nicolas Jackson scores one of the (many) good opportunities he had against Bournemouth and Chelsea win that one, too.
The problem is, though, this isn’t some parallel universe. Chelsea’s players aren’t finishing anything like an average footballer would. Jackson is struggling to shoulder the burden of being Chelsea’s main supply of goals. He’s scored just once from an xG total of 3.79, making his 2.79 underperformance the most of any Premier League player this campaign and the third-highest of any player in Europe’s top five leagues. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is second on that list, by the way, with no goals from his xG total of 2.81 for Marseille. You can take the man out of Chelsea…
Presumably, the data that Boehly and Eghbali are looking at shows, in some way, that Chelsea’s underlying data is better than their surface-level numbers. And that they believe Pochettino remains the man to turn around this team’s problems.
We’re still early days into the Pochettino era at Chelsea. The owners need to back him. But to have received the dreaded “vote of confidence” so early into his Chelsea tenure will be worrying.
Fulham and Burnley are up in the league next and should offer a great opportunity for Chelsea to finally get their season up and running.