With Costa injured, where will Chelsea find the goals to clinch Premier League title?


Chelsea began the 2014-2015 season at a blistering pace, outscoring opponents and winning matches with the type of confidence and flair that screamed ‘League Champions’ and had pundits dusting off the Invincibles tag from Arsenal’s memorable 2004 title charge.

Not one to declare the job done too far ahead of time, Chelsea manager José Mourinho frequently talked down the fact that the title has been Chelsea’s to lose all season – even though it has.  On paper, the Blues are the club with the best chance of securing the Premier League title, and everyone knows it.  But are they currently their own worst enemy?  A rather shaky 2015 – marked by losses to Spurs in the Premier League, Bradford City in the FA Cup and PSG in the Champions League (on aggregate) – has generated scrutiny and fueled speculation as to whether or not the Blues have what it takes to guarantee silverware come May.

Having let an eight point lead atop the league slip towards the end of 2014, the Blues know all too well how quickly the table can change. Despite stalwart efforts, soccer is a cruel beast and the league-leaders have endured their fair share of misfortune.  Chelsea has been at the center of controversy, claiming a perceived bias by officials and the FA often this season, the legitimacy of which has been argued by many.  Always outspoken when it comes to the integrity of his players or his club, Mourinho insisted:

“The number of penalties each team have in favor or against is another stat [to consider].  It’s been working against us since the beginning of the season.  That won’t change.  The numbers always tell the truth.  It’s just pure numbers.  No agenda, no intention.  Just numbers.”

The Portuguese may have a point, but poor referee decisions haven’t been the only reason for Chelsea’s rather questionable form in 2015.  So what’s the real issue?  More scrutiny should be on the Blues’ attacking form since the turn of the year.  In the second half of the Premier League season so far [11 matches], they’ve scored 22 goals.  While this form is by no means poor, there are areas in which the West Londoners could definitely improve.

Conceding goals on the road seems to be a recurring theme, as Chelsea have outscored Premier League opponents 33-6 at Stamford Bridge over the entirety of the season thus far.  Despite having the second-stingiest defense in the league, the league leaders have been allowing opponents to score at an alarming rate in away matches in the second half of the season.  Furthermore, they’ve dropped points from winning positions far too often since January.  This form has spilled over into other competitions, as well.  SB Nation’s Lead Soccer Editor Graham MacAree pointed out this questionable form during Chelsea’s recent Premier League match against Hull City:


In said match, Chelsea dug out a rather difficult 3-2 victory against a resilient Hull City side, let back into a game which seemed all but over in the 11th minute.  Glaring defensive errors marked the Tigers’ comeback, and, after they scored a deserved first, the equalizer had an unsettling feeling of inevitability about it.

In similar situations, many fans have singled out Branislav Ivanovic as the player at fault for much of Chelsea’s defensive frailty this season.  To be fair, his responsibilities have changed since last season and he is expected to contribute far more offensively than in previous years – and he does.  Still, much debate has been made over whether his offensive contributions outweigh his defensive inconsistencies.  Another player who has been the subject of much fan frustration is Gary Cahill.  Much maligned for his lack of decisive action when defending, Cahill has seen his place offered to Zouma on more than one occasion.

But is their defending really that bad?  Chelsea enjoy the second lowest goals against tally in the league, and have often held opponents to one or no goals.  The same was true of last season, except the Blues’ offensive production was severely lacking and may have been responsible for their unfavorable third place finish.  A major source of frustration for Mourinho, the offensive side of the game was something he was adamant to improve and it motivated the summer acquisitions of Costa and Fàbregas.

As a result, for much of the season Chelsea’s forward play has been stellar.  Fàbregas and Costa are league leaders in assists and goals, respectively.  Hazard has been scoring goals and creating chances, setting the bar for Mourinho’s other attacking midfielders.  But that’s where their offensive contributions begin to taper off.  Chelsea’s victory over Hull City was only the second time they’ve scored two or more goals in a Premier League away match since the mid-January 5-0 demolition of Swansea City.

Let’s take a look at the reverse fixtures from the Premier League matches Chelsea has played so far in the second half the season.  In matches against Everton and Aston Villa in the first half the season, Chelsea were victorious by a margin of three goals.  In the corresponding matches in the second half of the season, Chelsea won each by just one goal.  In matches against Burnley and West Ham United in the first half of the season, Chelsea were victorious by a margin of two goals.  In the corresponding matches in the second half of the season, Chelsea won each by just one goal.  Same goes for the matches against Hull City and Stoke City.  In the first half of the season, both fixtures were two-goal shutouts.  In the second half of the season, both have been hard-fought, one-goal wins that have gone down to the final whistle.

Yes, there are other factors that help to decide a match.  Expulsions, poor refereeing and the advantages of playing at home are just a few examples.  But a team challenging for the Premier League title has to expect to encounter their fair share of misfortune.  That’s what makes champions: playing through adversity and still reaching the intended goal – well that, and having players you can rely on to do their job week in and week out.  Despite having the league’s leading scorer in Diego Costa, the Blues are in need of other players to provide goals as they make their title push.  The Spanish striker, whose injury-prone hamstrings have been a cause for concern since he put pen to paper in Blues colors, has finally succumbed to what appears to be a serious injury, ruling him out of at least the next four weeks of action.  So who will step up in his absence?

Thirteen players have been responsible for Chelsea’s 63 league goals this season, with Costa [19] and Hazard [12] providing almost half that tally.  Defenders Branislav Ivanovic [4] and John Terry [3] have each scored as many league goals – or more, respectively – than Chelsea strikers Loïc Remy [1] and Didier Drogba [3].  It doesn’t help that former winger André Schürrle, whose three goal tally matches that of Drogba’s, was sold to Wolfsburg in the January transfer window.

Going down the list of Chelsea goal scorers, the closest attack-minded player to Hazard’s sum is Oscar, who has scored half the amount of the Blues’ tricky Belgian.  It’s clear that Chelsea need more goal-scoring contributions and this is likely the reason that players the likes of Mauro Icardi, Paulo Dybala and Douglas Costa have been consistently linked with the Blues.

With just seven remaining matches in their Premier League season – plus a game in hand and a seven point lead on their closest rivals – one would assume that Chelsea have what it takes to win the league before the final days of the season.  However, based on recent fixtures, they’ll need to produce more offensively to guarantee the necessary cushion.


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