Can Chelsea be stopped?
If you had to divide 2020 into winners and losers, Arsenal would probably come up as the losers, but the winners would be Chelsea. Chelsea have steamrolled past everyone in their way since the turn of the year, scoring 21 goals in 4 games.
Sam Kerr has started her WSL career but it’s been Bethany England getting all the headlines upfront. England has scored in 7 consecutive games and now leads the division in xG per 90.
The saying that a player scores with their right foot, left foot and head has become a bit of a cliche, but with England, it’s actually true. Of her 12 goals this season, 5 have come from her head, 4 from her right foot and 3 from her left foot. There’s even a fairly even distribution of shots if you’re sceptical her left-footed goals may just be a couple of flukes. She’s taken 24 right-footed shots, 23 headed shots and 17 left-footed shots.
Weirdly though, her goals with her left foot have an average distance to goal of around 21 yards, compared to around 12 yards with her right foot, despite her being predominantly right-footed (making 80% of her passes with her right foot). Yet the average shot distance is the same for right and left foot and the average xG isn’t significantly different, being 0.18 for her right foot and 0.15 for her left.
For shots taken from more than 20 yards, she’s scored 2/4 with her left foot and 0/8 with her right foot. While it’s likely just a fun quirk that’ll even out over time, it makes you wish someone would notice this and tell her to only use her left from distance as though it’s some kind of cheat code.
Chelsea’s defensive numbers stood out last season and that’s continued into this season. They have the best xG against by a decent difference and also top the charts when looking at the percentage of opposition possessions to reach the attacking third.
Even when up by multiple goals against West Ham there wasn’t any kind of complacency or lapse in concentration at the back to give West Ham a chance.
It’s their improvement in attacking numbers, without any drop off defensively, that’s seemed to make the difference recently. Sure, they’ve been overperforming their xG, but they’ve still been hugely dominant. They have the best xG in the division by more than 0.5 per game. Their xGD per game is a huge +2.16, the next best is Manchester City with +1.27.
They’re also a team who seem to be strong in transition. They’ve created the most xG within 15 seconds of possession and conceded the lowest within 15 seconds of opposition possession. Granted, if someone creates/concedes less xG then you’d expect them to create/concede less no matter how you break it down, but it’s not always the case.
Based on their xG numbers, it’s hard to see Chelsea slowing down at any point. Sure they might not be able to keep averaging 5.5 goals per game as they have in 2020, but with the quality and depth they have it’s become hard to imagine them slowing down for the home straight.
Corners, Cuthbert and Reiten
Corners are yet another area where Chelsea have excelled this season, thanks mostly to Erin Cuthbert and Guro Reiten. I’m no @EuanDewar or @from_the_wing so I can’t break down what’s good about their corners, I can just point at the numbers, but it’s still worth pointing at.
A quick note before carrying on. For teams, I look at shots that come with the play pattern being a corner, so it may not come directly from the corner, but it’s only the initial corner with players.
Chelsea lead the way for xG from corners this season, creating 0.49 xG per game. Reading, thanks to Fara Williams’ right and left-footed corners, are 2nd while Manchester City come in 3rd place. What makes Chelsea different from the next two is that they have two corner takers, while most teams seem to rely on one. Reading have the aforementioned Williams and City have Caroline Weir. Reiten and Cuthbert are both putting forward equally impressive numbers though.
The above plot shows that only Carla Humphrey of Bristol City has a better xA per corner than the Chelsea pair. Williams and Weir also look strong, while it’s not great viewing for the trio of Arsenal, Birmingham and Man United. (On the above plot it’s xG created divided by the total amount of corners taken, not just the corners that led to shots.)
Cuthbert and Reiten have shot up the xA rankings in recent weeks, making Vivianne Miedema’s numbers start to look a bit more human. When I first saw this on fbref I assumed that it was because of their set-piece taking abilities but that isn’t the case.
Yeah, they’ve created a lot from set-pieces, only Weir and Williams have created more from set-pieces per 90, but they’re also 4th and 5th (Cuthbert 4th, Reiten 5th) for open play xA per 90. Crossing is a big part of this, which shouldn’t come as a shock given England’s headed goals, with Reiten attempting the 4th most open play crosses per 90 and Cuthbert the 6th most.
They seem a good pair to have out wide in Chelsea’s 4-4-2 shape. They’re capable of getting wide and delivering balls into the box, but they’re also capable of tucking in and playing more narrow if required. They’re even active when out of possession. Cuthbert makes the most pressures per 90 for Chelsea while Reiten makes the 3rd most – England is sandwiched between them in 2nd.