Chelsea’s Premier League bid not designed to last – Thomas Tuchel must act and fast

“The idea that I should trust my eyes more than statistics, I don’t believe it because I’ve seen magicians pull rabbits out of their hats and I know the rabbit isn’t there- inside.”

Brentford, London. Edouard Mendy is lying on the cold grass, his eyes fixed firmly on the dark sky above him. The Senegalese international needs a moment to regain his composure. He, after all, took a shot from Place Pontus Jansson in the face at close range.

It’s not supposed to be like that. Not for Mendy. He plays behind the Premier League‘s meanest defense, a backline that has only been broken through in the top flight three times this season. And yet the bombing of Brentford was not a big surprise. Well, at least for those who know where the rabbit is.

The quote at the beginning of this article was delivered by Billy Beane, who, alongside Paul DePodesta, transformed the fortunes of Major League baseball team, the Oakland Athletics at the turn of the millennium through the use of ” in-depth statistical analysis.

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Their success was portrayed in the 2011 movie Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt. And that’s when statistical models and high-level data analysis really took hold. Still, the majority of Premier League clubs have remained slow to adoption.

Not anymore. Each high-flying team now has a range of analysis tools and several collaborators to interpret the data it produces. The majority of the best European head coaches are also much more aware and interested in the underlying numbers and the benefits, however small, that can be derived from them.

Thomas Tuchel is one of these coaches. On several occasions during his tenure at Chelsea, the German referred to “data and statistics” in pre and post-match press conferences. This is why he will know that what his team have produced so far – despite impressive results – is simply not good enough to win the Premier League title.

Yes, Chelsea are at the top of the table after eight games. And yes, they have the best defensive record in the league. But dig a little deeper and it’s clear that the Blues title bid, as it stands, is not designed to last.

Saturday’s win over Brentford wasn’t the first time this season that Mendy has been in driving form. It was the same at Liverpool in August, a 1-1 draw for Chelsea after coming into the second half with ten men, and in the 3-1 win over Aston Villa last month.

Mendy has, in essence, concealed the fact that Chelsea’s three full-backs are no longer the almost impenetrable force of last season. There are a myriad of reasons for this – including the opponents faced and the absence of N’Golo Kante for much of the campaign – but it shouldn’t cloud Tuchel’s thinking.

In the seven games Mendy have played in the Premier League this quarter, Chelsea have conceded three goals, two of which have been on penalties. It’s an extremely impressive record and largely attributable to the 30-year-old.

That’s because in the seven top-tier games Mendy has played this season, the Blues have an expected goals-conceded total of 8.2, per WyScout. No other Premier League team comes close to Chelsea’s level of outperformance.

For more context, West Ham United’s expected total goals conceded in the Premier League this quarter is also 8.2. But because the Irons lack a goalie of Mendy’s caliber, their backline has been violated ten times.

The harsh reality for Chelsea – and this is one thing Tuchel will know – is this: Unless the Blues stop conceding high-quality chances, their title bid will suffer. Mendy, who has an astonishing 96% save percentage this season, will not be able to maintain his level of performance. It is simply not possible.



Edouard Mendy has been spectacular against Brentford this weekend.  (Photo by Catherine Ivill / Getty Images)
Edouard Mendy has been spectacular against Brentford this weekend. (Photo by Catherine Ivill / Getty Images)

Tuchel faces another problem, however. His attack has not yet started. Romelu Lukaku’s goals immediately after signing for Inter Milan covered this issue, but it is now pointed out that the Belgian has played six games without finding the back of the net.

And yet, thanks in large part to the efforts of their center and full-backs, Chelsea have consistently outperformed their underlying numbers in the attacking third. The Blues have scored 16 times in their first eight Premier League appearances of the season – Beane doesn’t have to calculate an average of two goals per game.

But Chelsea’s expected goal tally so far is 11.6, a figure lower than six other top teams, including title rivals Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool. Again, this should worry Tuchel.

Liverpool are trailing Chelsea early in the Premier League table by just one point, but have something more lasting to hang their challenge for the title. They have scored 22 goals, slightly above their expected goals total of 20, and their six goals conceded are better than their expected goals conceded of 8.6.

The Reds are, quite simply, an excellent team; stingy in the rear and ruthless in attack. It’s a similar story for Man City, although Pep Guardiola’s side aren’t that clinical.

Tuchel is aware of this. “Overall, Liverpool and Manchester City have proven over the past few years that they are the benchmark in terms of quality and consistency,” he said on Saturday.

“They have shown us in recent years what it takes to become champions. It was a race between the two teams and it is the benchmark and we have to improve in all aspects – that includes defense and attack. – because the game is complex. ”

Tuchel is a shrewd coach, the one who pulled a rabbit out of the hat last season by winning the Champions League four months after taking office. Yet it is impossible to repeat such a round in the Premier League. An improvement is therefore necessary on the part of Chelsea. And quick.


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