Chelsea

Issues in defence: Three centre-back options for Chelsea

The Blues' fragility at the back was highlighted in the 3-2 defeat at West Ham; which players can help them address this?

 
8:00am on Saturday 4th July 2020
By
Cameron Smith

With Chelsea currently sitting in fourth place in the Premier League, Frank Lampard has enjoyed a fairly successful first campaign in charge so far, yet they face a challenge to finish in the Champions League positions thanks to the 3-2 loss at West Ham.

The performance away to the Hammers was extremely poor; the build-up play was often slow and the clear lack of chances created was an obvious flaw. However, it was the back-line that was really called into question.

The entire back four and goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga were at fault for at least one goal each, and it was the fourth game this season in which opponents have scored from all their shots on target against Chelsea.

Whilst this can be used as a direct criticism of Kepa, and Lampard will have to decide whether to replace his goalkeeper or not, it also indicates that the defence are simply allowing too many high quality shots at goal.This is something that needs to be seriously looked at.

In the top 13, only Burnley and Everton have conceded more than Chelsea’s 44 in the Premier League this season; that is not good enough for a side competing for a Champions League spot.

Who should Chelsea sign to address their left-back problem

Furthermore, only West Ham (22) and Aston Villa (19) have dropped more points from leading positions than Chelsea’s 18 this term.

Set Piece Frailties:

Against West Ham, Chelsea conceded from their ninth corner of the Premier League season of 110 faced, meaning that 8.2% of the corners they’ve conceded led directly to goals. This is by far the worst in the league, with Manchester United and Norwich City the next, at 4.8%.

However, it seems to be a systematic problem. as last year, Derby had the worst xG in the league on corners against, and the seventh worst in goals conceded on corners. This is something that the coaching staff at Stamford Bridge urgently need to investigate, as the system clearly doesn’t work.

Both Antonio Rudiger and Kurt Zouma have an aerial duel win rate of over 69%, which is better than the likes of Harry Maguire (67%) and Kalidou Koulibaly (65%), so it’s very likely that it’s the system, not the players, that is at fault for the volume of set-pieces conceded.

Finding a good centre-half is surprisingly difficult; statistics can often be misleading for their position, and they can just as easily be a miss rather than a hit. However, I’m going to try and identify which centre-half would fit best in this Chelsea side.

Centre-Back Option 1 - Dayot Upamecano

21 yrs - D (CL) - RB Leipzig
89
Defending
Creative
Passing
Attacking
Shooting
Decisive
Aerials
Physical
JavaScript chart by amChartsLDefendingCreativePassingAttackingShootingDecisiveAerialsPhysical10-10-5051015100%
2359
Played matches
28
Touches P90
88.82
Tackles P90
1.98
SUCCESSFUL PASSING %
89%
Aerials P90
3.36
Interceptions P90
1.64
Duels won P90
5.72

Lampard likes his centre-backs to be extremely comfortable on the ball, and the four first choice options (Rudiger, Zouma, Andreas Christensen and Fikayo Tomori) all have a pass accuracy of 87% or above.

RB Leipzig’s Dayot Upamecano fits that bill perfectly, with the centre-back maintaining a 89% pass accuracy in the Bundesliga in 2019/20.

Touted for a move to one of Europe’s elite clubs, Upamecano would be an excellent signing for the Blues if they could fend off serious competition. He made 3.6 tackles and interceptions P90 last term, and his aerial win rate of 63% is better than both Christensen and Tomori (57.3% and 50% respectively).

Upamecano loves to step out from the back, and this often adds an extra dimension to the fluid Leipzig attack, something he could replicate at Stamford Bridge. His defensive duel win rate of 76.7% is actually better than both Virgil van Dijk’s 70.9% and Raphael Varane’s 69.4%.

His pace means that he would suit the high line that Chelsea’s defence plays, and his ability to marshal a back four at such a young age (21) bodes very well for the future.

Centre-Back Option 2 - Caglar Soyuncu:

85
Defending
Creative
Passing
Attacking
Shooting
Decisive
Aerials
Physical
JavaScript chart by amChartsLDefendingCreativePassingAttackingShootingDecisiveAerialsPhysical10-10-5051015100%
2790
Played matches
31
Touches P90
80.71
Tackles P90
1.90
SUCCESSFUL PASSING %
90%
Aerials P90
4.81
Interceptions P90
1.29
Duels won P90
5.90

The links of Ben Chiwell to Chelsea have circled for months, but the Blues should instead target Chilwell’s fellow defender at Leicester, Caglar Soyuncu.

Harry Maguire’s replacement at Leicester, Soyuncu has excelled alongside Jonny Evans this season, and his form has led to links of a move away from the King Power.

Like Upamecano, Soyuncu is reliable on the ball, completing 90% of his attempted passes in the Premier League this season, and his defensive abilities match this. He has an aerial success rate of 66.2%, and his defensive duel win rate of 72.1% rivals Clement Lenglet’s 65.2% and Marquinhos’ 68.9%.

With 3.2 tackles and interceptions P90 this season, Soyuncu is less active than several of Chelsea’s current options (Christensen is making 3.8 for example) but this is likely a result of a tactical difference whereby Leicester are less reliant on their centre-backs to step out and win the ball. This is thanks to Wilfred Ndidi.

With a year of Premier League experience, Soyuncu could add some grit into the Chelsea spine, and reduce the defensive lapses we’ve seen from the Blues this season.

Centre-Back Option 3 - Declan Rice:

21 yrs - DM, M (C) - West Ham
84
Defending
Creative
Passing
Attacking
Shooting
Decisive
Aerials
Physical
JavaScript chart by amChartsLDefendingCreativePassingAttackingShootingDecisiveAerialsPhysical10-10-5051015100%
2880
Played matches
32
Touches P90
57.25
Tackles P90
2.97
SUCCESSFUL PASSING %
86%
Aerials P90
2.34
Interceptions P90
2.03
Duels won P90
5.78

The man most linked with a switch to Stamford Bridge out of these three, Declan Rice has played the majority of his first team minutes for West Ham in a defensive midfield role, but he spent his academy days further back, including when he was at Chelsea until the age of 14.

An England regular, Rice has pushed on this season, and now could justifiably be seen as a potential target for the Blues. His versatility means he could fill the void at centre-half, as well as providing back-up for N’Golo Kante at No. 6.

Whilst his numbers will be skewed because of his position as a midfielder this season, Rice attempts 5.0 tackles and interceptions P90 and maintains an 86% pass accuracy.

His 53% aerial win rate is higher than Fikayo Tomori’s 50%, but is still fairly low, especially considering Chelsea’s weakness defending crosses, and so is his 53% defensive duel win rate.

However, he excelled against the Blues in West Ham’s 3-2 victory, completing 11 ball recoveries and winning five tackles.

David Moyes is reportedly interested in a reunion with Ross Barkley, and this could open up the possibility of a player-plus-cash swap deal with Rice heading to Stamford Bridge.

Conclusion:

Upamecano is the best centre-back available on the market this summer, and if Chelsea can sign the 21-year-old then a significant boost to their hopes next season will have been handed to them.

However, Leipzig may be reluctant to sell another of their best talents to the Blues, so one of Soyuncu or Rice may be the option that Frank Lampard and the hierarchy choose to pursue.

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