Football News

How Conor Gallagher can answer Mauricio Pochettino’s challenge of more Chelsea goals

By Harry Edwards

Published: 14:31, 15 March 2024

Chelsea manager Mauricio Pochettino has laid down a challenge to midfielder Conor Gallagher to score more goals.

Gallagher has been one of Pochettino’s most-used players this season, with only Axel Disasi (2,227) getting more minutes in the Premier League than the Englishman’s 2,186. Across all competitions, Gallagher is closing in on 3,000 minutes played, having just about broke the 2,000 mark last season.

The Englishman has been reliable for Chelsea and Pochettino, often using as the pressing midfielder, covering practically ever blade on grass on the pitch each game. This season, Gallagher has found himself a bit closer to goal, again as a presser. But it means he is also getting into a lot of goalscoring positions.

We saw it most in the EFL Cup final, when Gallagher had three shots, two of which were classed as Big Chances. He missed all three, only managing to hit the target once, as Chelsea went on to lose to Liverpool after extra-time.

It’s a problem Gallagher has had for most of the season. It was well-documented that Gallagher hadn’t scored for Chelsea until February 7th, netting his first goal of the season in the 3-1 FA Cup win over Aston Villa. A few days later, he bagged a brace as Chelsea came from behind to beat Crystal Palace 3-1. And, Gallagher capped off February (days after the EFL Cup final) with a later winner to help Chelsea beat Leeds 3-2 in the FA Cup.

“I think he’s convincing the England manager because of his commitment, he’s always 200 per cent in every single appearance and training,” Pochettino told reports of Gallagher being named in the latest England squad.

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“He needs to keep performing and keep this commitment always as it’s one of his best skills. He has the capacity to always be ready to fight, to commit, to help and then showing his quality. Yes he needs to keep believing and trying to improve in this way.

“The other challenge for him is to score more goals. I think from the beginning of the season was really tough for him but now he’s scoring and feeling more confident and I think now to grow in this reaction is the most important thing for him.”

Four goals this season has already beaten Gallagher’s tally for the previous campaign, but of course there is a big difference between the minutes. However, per 90 minutes, they are similar with Gallagher averaging 0.12 goals per 90 this season and 0.13 last season.

However, there has been a significant drop-off from Gallagher’s best season for goals in his senior career. That was in 2021/22 when he was on loan at Crystal Palace, scoring eight goals in 39 games across all competitions. Per 90 minutes, Gallagher was averaging 0.22 goals. Gallagher will never be a goalscoring midfielder, his strengths lie elsewhere, but if he could get closer to his Palace record Chelsea and England would be better off.

So, what can Gallagher do?

The first, most obvious answer, is to take more shots. Gallagher averaged 1.64 shots per 90 minutes in the Premier League when at Crystal Palace, compared to 1.36 so far this season. Naturally, Gallagher also hit the target more at 0.69 to 0.54 per 90, and with better accuracy — 42.31% to 39.39%.

Now, Gallagher did miss more Big Chances per 90 in 2021/22 (0.13 to 0.08) but that came as a result of having more Big Chances overall. He also scored more at 0.13 to 0.04. But, it is worth noting that Gallagher is being more creative this season, as part of a slightly different role. The Englishman has averaged 1.56 chances created per 90 minutes in the Premier League this season, compared to 1.2 for Crystal Palace.

Gallagher is also making more tackles per 90 (2.8 to 2.15), more interceptions (1.36 to 0.92) and is winning more possessions in both the attacking third (1.4 to 0.6) and middle third (3.09 to 2.97).

So it’s more of a change in role for Gallagher that he needs to get used to, rather than any kind of quality drop off. But once he does find his shooting boots, Gallagher, Chelsea and England will all benefit.