Comparing Chelsea's 2015/16 Flops with the Class of 2016/17
Chelsea are flying. Antonio Conte's side are nine points clear at the top of the Premier League table, seemingly coasting their way to a second title in three seasons.
Nobody expected it to be like this. After last season's horror show, the Blues were supposed to be scrapping it out with their rivals for a place back in Europe at best. Pre-Conte, Chelsea had finished 10th in the Premier League, 31 points behind champions Leicester City.
That was their lowest league finish in the 13 years that Roman Abramovich has owned the club, with the Blues 16 points outside of the Champions League places. Already, though, this season has seen them surpass their 50-point tally from 2015/16—and we still have 14 more games to go until the end of the campaign.
Conte's side have won 19 Premier League games this term, which is seven more than all of last season. In 12 home matches, they have scored 33 times—one more than the 19 games of the previous 12 months.
The improvement across the board has been clear, but what about the individuals? What do the stats tells us about the rapid improvement of the key players in Conte's side?
Comparing 2015/16 with the current campaign, we take a closer look at four Chelsea players who have turned things around to make the Blues the runaway leaders of the Premier League.
As Chelsea started leaking goals last season, fingers were pointed at the defence. In truth, a big part of it was the downfall of Nemanja Matic.
From being so dominant in central midfield a season earlier, he found himself being overrun and caught out against teams that flooded central areas. It didn't help having Cesc Fabregas alongside him, with the Spaniard's defensive capabilities not being his biggest strength.
Interestingly, Matic's improvement this term hasn't been about his defensive contribution; he actually made more tackles on average last season and intercepted more passes.
Part of that will be influenced by the fact Chelsea last season found themselves on the back foot much more in matches—whereas they're more dominant now—but it's also influenced by how his role has been changed under Conte.
With N'Golo Kante partnering him, Matic isn't the defensive shield at Chelsea anymore. Instead, he's operating further forward and is encouraged to impact the game offensively. And he's succeeding at it.
Matic has six assists in the league this season, which is more than his 2014/15 and 2015/16 combined (five). His key passes (0.8) are an improvement on the 0.6 he chalked up last season, too.
The Serb is also finding himself on the receiving end of some tougher treatment from opposition players as well, suffering an average of 0.7 fouls per game this term, compared to 0.5 in 2015/16.
The stats show not only how Matic has had to adapt under Conte, but that he has the ability to apply his manager's instruction. His partnership with Kante in their part of the pitch is the Premier League's most outstanding.
The biggest mystery of 2015/16 wasn't Chelsea's collapse: It was where Eden Hazard disappeared to.
We're not sure the Belgian wizard is quite sure himself, but whatever magic we had seen the year previous when he was named PFA Player of the Year, it had the opposite effect in 2015/16.
Pick any stat you want, and it'll show Hazard's rapid decline. It took him until April to score a goal in the Premier League—almost a year to the day since he had last found the back of the net—while he finished up the season with just five goals in all competitions.
Chelsea could have fielded a training-ground dummy on the left wing and would've stood more chance of getting something out of it compared to Hazard. He completely tanked, picking up just three assists in 31 appearances, managing a mere 36 shots on goal all season.
In 2014/15, his shots alone stood at 80 for the season, while he picked up a healthy nine assists and 14 goals. He completed an average of 4.8 dribbles per game and was being fouled three times on average.
Taking the season "off" last year, Hazard's stats have returned to those dominant levels from when Chelsea were last champions of England. If he continues to perform like he is, the Belgian will finish up with 16 goals this season (he's averaging 0.43 per game), and he already has three assists.
Teams see Hazard as a threat again as he's being fouled an average of 2.9 times per game, compared to 2.4 last season.
He's also completing 4.4 dribbles per game compared to 3.4 last season.
|Goals per game||0.13||0.43|
|Dribbles per game||3.4||4.4|
Hazard is back to his best, despite suffering a poor January.
When Pedro joined Chelsea from Barcelona, Blues fans thought he would give the team the impetus to improve on their slow start to 2015/16. Indeed, scoring on his debut and earning an assist in a 3-2 win over West Bromwich Albion, the Spaniard seemed to be the antidote.
As time wore on, Pedro struggled at Chelsea. He was nothing like the player we had seen win Champions Leagues and La Liga titles in a dominant Barca side.
He looked lightweight, seemingly unable to cope with the physicality of the English game. Pedro scored just seven goals in the league all season, picking up a paltry two assists.
It wasn't good enough, and given how ineffective he had been, we expected he may be a casualty under Conte's reign at Chelsea.
It's been the opposite. Pedro is now one of the most vital players in this Chelsea side, back playing in a more familiar inside-right position.
Conte's tactical switch has meant Pedro is operating in areas where he can cause damage to opponents, and it shows in the stats. He has five league goals this season in half the matches of last year, but crucially, he has hit that tally with fewer shots (1.3 per game this term compared to two in 2015/16). It shows he's more clinical.
Not only that, Pedro has scored against three of the Premier League's top seven sides this term. Last season, he didn't score once against the big boys.
|Shots per game||2||1.3|
Pedro isn't just a goalscorer, though. His role at Chelsea is about creating chances for others, and he is doing that. Last season, his assists were poor in the league, but he already has five to his name in 2016/17.
Chelsea signed Diego Costa from Atletico Madrid in 2014 for one reason—for him to score the goals that would deliver them trophies.
With Didier Drogba long gone from Stamford Bridge, the Blues lacked the presence of a proven goalscorer. The Fernando Torres experiment—can we refer to a £50 million experiment as such?—had flopped badly, and they needed a player who could deliver.
After his first season in English football, the Spain international had fulfilled his end of the bargain. He scored 20 goals in the Premier League as Chelsea ran out as comfortable champions, leading the table from the opening weekend to the last.
Then in 2015/16, he disappeared. Like the rest of his team-mates, Costa was a shadow of the player we had seen in his debut campaign. The goals dried up—Costa scored just four goals before Christmas—and the Blues suffered for it.
Indeed, Costa had more yellow cards (six) than goals before Guus Hiddink took over from the sacked Jose Mourinho. Chelsea were in a relegation battle and needed their striker back on form.
He improved enough to finish the season with 16 goals in all competitions, but it was a far cry from the Costa we knew.
Now under Conte, it has all changed. Not only is Costa back to scoring goals—he already has 15 this season—he has cleaned up his act when it comes to discipline. Costa has just five yellow cards this year, coming at an average of one every five games. Compare that to the same stage last season, when Costa was being booked once every three matches.
It's not only the goals and discipline that has improved. Costa is making more successful dribbles per game (1.8 this season to 1.4 last year), is winning more free-kicks (he's fouled 2.5 times per game now, compared to 1.8 last year) and has 3.1 shots per game to 2.4 last term.
|Shots per game||2.4||3.1|
Costa has increased his performance level across the board.
All stats via WhoScored.com unless otherwise noted.