In acquiring Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from Barcelona, Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel is addressing an issue that the 2020 signing of Timo Werner was long-since supposed to have alleviated.
In the summer of 2020, Chelsea were coming off of an underwhelming campaign for a club of their stature.
True, they’d reached the final of the FA Cup . However, after taking an early lead, they conceded in the 28th and 67th, and wound up watching Arsenal lift the trophy. In the league, they finished fourth level on points (66) with Manchester United, though both were 15 points adrift of second-place Manchester City, and an unfathomable 33 points behind champions Liverpool. For context, Bournemouth and Watford, who went down in 18th and 19th, finished just 32 points behind Chelsea. In the Champions League, they finished second in their group, though, with an impressive 11 points. Sadly, all this earned them was a date with eventual champions Bayern Munich, who walloped them to the tune of a 7-1 aggregate score line.
No player on the side scored 20 goals. Tammy Abraham led the way with an impressive 18 in 33 appearances in all competitions. Behind him only Willian (11 in 38), Christian Pulicic (11 in 27) and Olivier Giroud (10 in 17) netted double-digit goals.
To deliver a jolt to the attack, the club turned its attention to Germany. There, in the Bundesliga, they found one Timo Werner. The then-24-year-old striker, who’d moved to Leipzig from Stuttgart four years earlier, had netted an outstanding 95 goals in 159 appearances in all competitions, and 78 in 127 Bundesliga appearances. Surely this was the kind of young talent, with a reasonable release clause of £47.5 million, just about to enter his prime, that would spearhead the attack at Stamford Bridge for years to come.
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Over two seasons in London, Werner proceeded to misfire far more than he, well, fired. In his time at Chelsea, Timo Werner converted just 25.8% of what Opta defines as ‘big chances’ in the Premier League. Of 33 forwards with at least 20 ‘big chances’ in this timeframe, only one (Danny Welbeck) converted at a lower rate. As bad as this all sounds, the raw numbers are somehow less flattering. In 56 league appearances, Werner scored just 10 goals.
So, in the summer of ’22, Werner was on the move again, back to RB Leipzig. In his place (notionally, if not exactly positionally), from Manchester City, came Raheem Sterling, for a fee of £47.5 million. However, the front line has struggled during the 2022-23 season so far. Through five Premier League games (at the time of writing), Chelsea have earned just five points, and have gotten three goals from forwards. Thus, Chelsea returned to market, in search of a striker whose calling card, first and foremost, is getting the ball in the back of the net.
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Last season, after his relationship with Arsenal deteriorated to the point where he stripped of the captaincy and eventually departed the club ‘by mutual consent’, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was a fading star who needed to revive his image and show that he still had something in the tank. Barcelona, meanwhile, was a scuffling superpower in need of top-end talent, star power and, most of all, a top-four finish. Aubameyang agreed to join the Blaugrana on reduced wages.
In one of the most efficient win-win arrangements in recent memory, he made 23 appearances for the club, rekindling his Dortmund connection with Ousmane Dembele and scoring 13 goals. 11 of those goals came in 17 league appearances – highlighted by a hat-trick in a 4–1 away win over Valencia, and a brace (plus an assist on a Ferran Torres goal) in a resounding 4-0 Clásico win in Madrid. In the end, Barça secured a second-place finish in La Liga, with an incredibly efficient and proficient Aubameyang playing a big role. He scored 53.33% of his 15 ‘big chances’ in La Liga, and averaged 0.91 goals per 90 minutes in La Liga. The only player to play at least 500 minutes and scored at a more frequent rate was presumptive Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema (0.93). On top of all of that, he was, by all accounts, an excellent teammate.
Having deservedly put himself in line for one last payday, Aubameyang is now on his way back to London (where he had, on the whole, an excellent time with Arsenal scoring 92 goals in 163 appearances in all competitions), in a deal worth about £12 million, with veteran left back Marcos Alonso going the other way.
🚨🚨 Pierre Aubameyang to Chelsea and Marcos Alonso to Barça: here we go! Full agreement completed. €14m fee to Barcelona. #DeadlineDay
More: Aubameyang will fly to London around 5pm! Two year deal + one more option.
Alonso in Spain to undergo medical and sign three year deal. pic.twitter.com/nILbmEk8G8
— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) September 1, 2022
It is a deal that legendary former Chelsea striker Didier Drogba has suggested has been mooted some time ago. “Finally !!!!! Remember the time we spoke about it years ago
Happy for you brother,” he wrote on Twitter.
— Didier Drogba (@didierdrogba) September 2, 2022
New Chelsea owner Todd Boehly described his new signing as “an elite striker with a proven track record in the Premier League and his arrival strengthens our squad, giving us new attacking options.”
With midnight passing Boehly, whose approach to his first transfer window has been compared to that of a “kid in a sweet shop” by Gary Neville, has backed Chelsea by net-spending more than any other Premier League club this summer.
Your man Todd Woodward needs to stop wandering round like a kid in a sweet shop! 💵 😂 https://t.co/F8hzmDCkuO
— Gary Neville (@GNev2) August 31, 2022
In the eyes of many, it has not been a slick operation. There were those links to Cristiano Ronaldo while failed attempts were made to sign Jules Kounde from Sevilla and, at the last minute, Edson Alvarez from Ajax. In the words of former West Ham captain Nigel Reo-Coker (to BBC Sport): “Chelsea have lost that bit of elegance and class they had about themselves when they were getting players. Now there are so many names and players being linked with Chelsea.
“You just wonder where it’s coming from and how they’ve gone from being so quiet about their business and very direct, very precise in their recruiting, to it now being a bit of a soap opera.
“Yes, they need a number nine – but Aubameyang is coming for the ride. We saw what happened with Arsenal when he got comfortable there.”
For his part, Aubameyang says he has “some unfinished business with the Premier League.” Presumably this involves unseating his former club Arsenal, top of the table with five wins in five. Chelsea welcome their London rivals to Stamford Bridge on November 5. Next up is a trip to play West Ham on Saturday afternoon.