Chelsea have enjoyed massive improvements under Thomas Tuchel and remain unbeaten after 11 games across all competitions while conceding just two goals. But their lack of attacking prowess is still quite worrying.
The Blues have scored 13 goals in those 11 games, only managing more than one within a single match on four occasions (vs Burnley, Sheffield United, Newcastle and Everton) and failing to score at all on two of them.
At the heart of their attacking problems has been Timo Werner, who continues to struggle in the Premier League and goes into Saturday’s game against Leeds United without a goal in his past four league matches.
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Considering his goal return for RB Leipzig – last season’s 28 league goals, in particular – many were expecting Werner to hit the ground running in the Premier League and finally be the Diego Costa replacement Chelsea had been searching for since the Spaniard left in 2017.
And he started life at Chelsea in decent fashion, scoring four goals in his opening eight games, also winning a penalty on his debut against Brighton, and generally testing Premier League defences with his pace.
But since then things haven’t worked out. In his next 19 Premier League appearances, Werner would score just one goal, which came against Newcastle United to end a 14-game drought some believed had contributed to Frank Lampard’s sacking.
It must be said, however, that Werner did spend a fair amount of time on the wings, a role that doesn’t play to his strengths; he cannot drift out wide if he is starting there and under Thomas Tuchel, the 25-year-old has played a new position, slightly more central as one of two ‘False 9.5s,’ a cross between a No.10 and a False No.9 behind the striker.
From there, Werner can stretch himself and the opposition defence as one of three attacking players they have to worry about and in the recent visit to Anfield, the German had a field day getting in behind Liverpool’s high line from a deeper starting position. He was rather harshly robbed of a goal from one of these runs, ruled offside by the tiniest of margins due to an outstretched arm signalling to his teammate where he wanted the pass played.
So there have been positives, particularly under Tuchel. But there have also been negatives. In Chelsea’s recent 2-0 win over Everton, pitchside microphones picked up Tuchel berating Werner for his positioning, saying: “Timo, how long are you staying on the left?
“You’re playing on the right! The last 15 mins you’ve only been on the left! Don’t you understand?”
Then there are the missed chances. Werner has taken shots resulting from 20 ‘Big Chances’, as defined by Opta, in the Premier League so far this season but has only scored four of them for a 20% conversion rate, which also makes up a large part of his overall goal tally.
Strikers cannot be expected to score with every chance they get. Even the ‘Big’ ones. In fact, it’s common to see the world’s best strikers top the lists for ‘Big Chances Missed’ come the end of the season due to high volume of overall goalscoring opportunities they involve themselves in through skills other than finishing (i.e. movement and spatial awareness) . But the best will usually accompany those missed opportunities with a high number of converted ones.
Take the Bundesliga, for example. Robert Lewandowski has once again blown away Germany’s top flight. With 31 goals in 23 appearances, he is en route to breaking Gerd Muller’s all-time record for most goals in a single Bundesliga season, with just nine required to equal it.
And yet the Bayern Munich striker has missed 17 ‘Big Chances’ so far this season, the joint-most in any of Europe’s top five leagues. He’s joined by Wolfsburg’s Wout Weghorst and a player at the heart of Saturday’s other interesting subplot: former Chelsea striker Patrick Bamford, who is looking to hurt his former club once again, having scored in the previous fixture at Stamford Bridge.
The clear difference between Lewandowski, Weghorst and Cristiano Ronaldo and Werner is that they are more clinical. Lewandowski has converted 56.41% of his Big Chances in the Bundesliga so far this season, for instance.
The same could be said for Bamford, although the Englishman is still some way off the conversion rates of Lewandowski, Weghorst (43.33%) and Ronaldo (48.39%). While Werner has scored just five goals in the Premier League this season, Bamford is on 13 (seven of which have come from Big Chances) and is joint-fourth in the race for the Golden Boot, behind only Mohamed Salah, Bruno Fernandes and Harry Kane. In total, Bamford has had 24 Big Chances, the joint-most in the Premier League alongside Jamie Vardy, with a conversion rate of 29.17%.
But, like Werner, Bamford’s goalscoring output is in decline, particularly in 2021. After scoring 10 goals in his opening 15 Premier League games this season, including in each of his first three appearances and a hat-trick against Aston Villa, Bamford has three in 11. His goalscoring, or lack thereof, this year has had an effect on Leeds’ results with the Whites losing in all but one of the eight matches in which the Englishman has failed to score.
He goes into this game without a goal in two and, like Werner, may be starting to feel the pressure build, especially as Leeds continue their fight to mathematically secure safety as soon as possible.
So as much as Big Chances Missed will be a source of frustration in the moment they occur and afterwards, they are partly also a sign of encouragement. The the question is, can either Werner or Bamford make that leap to drive their conversion rates closer to those of Lewandowski and Ronaldo? The next opportunity falls on this Saturday at Elland Road.