The observation may not be as profound as some others, but in Chelsea’s, and their strikers’ case this season, it is absolutely perfect.
After the highs of A European Cup win and an FA Cup win, a backlash was expected this season, as the squad that had achieved these triumphs was essentially one in decline, with the team relying on aging (Drogba) and misfiring (Torres) stars to get the goals. Their weakness up front was shown up in their league position at the end of the season, as they ended at a poor 6th position. In the summer, the club spent a lot of money to bring in players who would add more to the attacking thrust, and solve the problem. While in theory, this was a good move (as Chelsea were reliant only on Mata to create), to have creative players in the side to provide the likes of Torres with chances, the root cause for the goal drought was ignored- the strikers.
The last time Chelsea won the Premier League, it was primarily due to the exploits of their striker, Didier Drogba, who finished as the top scorer that season with 29 goals. The back-up also did well, with Anelka, Malouda and Lampard providing an impressive 45 goals. This season, the striker has been absent in terms of scoring, with Torres scoring 7 league goals so far, and Ba scoring 2. The back-up cast has done reasonably well, though not as well as then, with Mata, Hazard and Lampard contributing a combined 30 goals so far.
Over this season, Torres and Ba have been the culprits. A large number of chances have gone begging, and the duo has failed to make them count. The fact that midfielders like Hazard, Lampard and Mata are the top scorers this season is evidence of the fact that they need to do more. Statistically speaking, Chelsea have created 339 chances so far, to score 58 goals, which is the 2nd highest in the league (the fact that only 9 have come from strikers more or less exonerates the others from the blame for not getting enough goals, in fact it is a measure of praise for them that Chelsea are still second highest scorers). The top scoring team are, unsurprisingly, the champions elect, Manchester United, but what is telling is the fact that they’ve created only 3 chances more than the team in focus here, Chelsea. This highlights the degree of inefficiency in the finishing.
In terms of why this inefficiency exists, Chelsea perhaps need to look at their strikers. They seem to be going for the ‘safe’ shots more than taking a chance, or trying something different. This may seem a bit puzzling in the case of a striker, but as a goalkeeper, one anticipates and plays the percentages to go with the most likely option, i.e. a keeper will position himself based on his expectation of what a striker is going to do. So, for a right footed striker, the keeper will position himself in a manner that will make it possible for him to cover the angle at which the ball comes at him after a right footed shot from the player in question. This allows him to save the ball more easily.
The above has probably been the case with the Chelsea forwards this season, with 2 of the nine goals between them coming from headers, and everything else being a right foot shot. It is also common knowledge that a right footed shot moves towards the left of the goal, and vice versa (except if the shot is with the outside of the boot, a rare occurrence). In this regard, only 14 of Torres’s 45 shots have been on the right side of the goal. This sort of shooting behaviour seems to be a bit predictable for the keepers.
Another probable cause for the inefficiency is perhaps the lack of power in the shots. As we all know, increasing shot power more or less leads to decreased accuracy, and it is the right balance between the two that strikers seek. In this regard, the Blue’s forwards seem to be erring on the side of caution. So while they boast of impressive shot accuracy rates (Torres with 62% and Ba with 67%), the goals have gone to those who possibly seem to favour powering their shots in (van Persie and Suarez have accuracy rates of 59% and 50% respectively).
Movement is another important aspect of the strikers ability to score goals. It allows them to get into spaces and create time to have a shot. It also keeps defenders on their toes, and sometimes draws them out of position to create space for other players. Movement into an area may also be a good way to catch a defender off guard, and score. A cursory observation of Chelsea games this season will reveal that the most common movement employed by ‘El Nino’ this season has been the right to left movement, where he drifts into the penalty box from the right side of the field. A deeper look at figures will reveal that only 2 of his goals this season have come from the left of the penalty spot. This sort of movement is very dangerous, and is tough to mark, but repeated use makes it a bit predictable.
At the start of the season, ‘Nando’ employed it to good effect (see his goals against Reading and Newcastle at the Bridge). But eventually, scouts, analysts and managers have picked up on it, and found ways to negate it, resulting in a bit of a drought for the Spaniard. This repeated movement may also be the reason that most of his shots are right footed ones. On the other hand, Robin van Persie, a striker with fantastic movement patterns, has got 19 goals so far, with 9 coming from the right side, and 10 from the left side. The man with the left leg from heaven also boasts a much better strong to weak foot ratio, with 11 from his left leg, and 6 goals coming from his weaker right leg. This variety in his movement around the box, and perhaps consequently, his selection of which foot to shoot with, has made it very difficult for defenders and goalkeepers to get to grips with him.
Another job a striker must be able to do effectively is win headers and aerial duels. This allows him to hold the ball up better, and of course, contributes directly to goals from headers. In this regard, you’d expect a striker like Demba Ba to do well. The Senegalese is, after all, 189 cm tall, and has an impressive BMI of 23.5. However, he has been a huge disappointment, winning only 40% of his aerial duels. Even Fernando Torres, who is 6 cm shorter and not as well built, has a better record on aerial duels (42%). This inability to retain the ball in crucial areas reduces Chelsea’s attacking threat, and the inability to hold up the ball effectively, also reduces the amount of time they spend in the attacking third, consequently, reducing their chances to attack.
Ba has also been a very poor finisher. While he gets 67% of the shots he takes on target, only 17% of all his shots on target are goals. His recent performance against West Ham was cringeworthy at best. The only reason he hasn’t received as much attention is that Fernando Torres always hogs the limelight. This makes Ba appear even worse, as he doesn’t even have to face the constant pressure and scrutiny that Torres does.
The biggest problem with Demba Ba has been his inability to adopt to the style of play at Chelsea. While he is a willing runner and makes for a decent presence up front, he hasn’t come to grips with the play of those behind him, and has suffered as a result.
Notes: Most of the focus of the first half has been on Fernando Torres. This is because he is the only striker who has been at Chelsea all season, no personal vendetta. As a Chelsea supporter, I love Torres, have always supported him, and will continue to do so. Also, some of the stats have been rounded off (Eg: minutes per goal). This was done for convenience. In case you require exact figures, do get in touch!
All stats via squawka.com