Chelsea

This is our fix up look sharp series, which will look to profile a selection of Premier League teams for their FPL potential. We’ll give some key info on the players, talk about their first five fixtures and pick out five key individuals from that side, then offer a verdict on them at the end.

In this article, Ed (prokoptas) runs the rule over Chelsea’s FPL chances for next season.

It’s good to be on top (at least, this is what my girlfriend tells me). After winning last year’s Premier League title at a canter, Chelsea were therefore expected to re-sign their key players to long contracts, reinforce their position by making one or two game-changing signings to bolster squad depth, and generally savour their time as the top dog.

Yet, as the newly-returned Game of Thrones has demonstrated time and time again, it can be tough to be King. After Antonio Conte’s awkward attempt to break up with leading scorer Diego Costa via text (always a risky  move, in my experience) and an unsuccessful late run at derailing Romelu Lukaku’s move to rivals Manchester United, Chelsea risked being left looking like the uncoordinated child in an up-tempo game of musical chairs until the £60m deal for Alvaro Morata served to calm the nerves of their fanbase, and give the side a centrepiece forward to build around once more. With that new development taken into account, here’s our rundown on the team’s fantasy prospects heading into 2017/18:

The squad

After a nightmare 2015/16 campaign that saw Chelsea stutter to a 10th-place finish, Chelsea rang the changes heading into last season. In came fiery moptop Antonio Conte to instil his brand of defensive discipline and accentuated gesticulation, and so too arrived reinforcements in the guise of Marcos Alonso, David Luiz, N’Golo Kante, and Michy Batshuayi. While some proved more successful than others (I’m yet to be totally convinced that the existence of Batshuayi is anything more than a Chinese hoax), the cumulative effect was clearly successful, propelling Chelsea to a title-winning 81 points.

What about their underlying numbers? In attack, Chelsea returned 85 goals last season, one short of league-leading Tottenham. Yet, despite this generous return, the Blues generated only the 5th-most chances among PL teams (fewer even than Mourinho’s goal-shy Manchester United).

This discrepancy was accounted for by a PL best chance conversion rate of 14.7%. In order to put that number into its proper context, consider this: not only did Chelsea lead all sides in goals above expectation, the Blues actually overperformed their expected goal output by more goals than any PL side underperformed theirs. In fact, this chance conversion rate was such an outlier that it accounted for 23 more goals than they were expected to score by this metric! Even normalising this number to account for team quality (by using an adjusted expected-goals metric based on the top-six teams alone), Chelsea still overperformed their expected goals output by 14.5 goals last year around. As we have shown before, this number is simply not sustainable over multiple seasons (for reference: Chelsea finishing 8th in 2015/16 and 2013/14), and a regression in terms of goal conversion rate appears due heading into next season.

Fortunately, however, the Champions should be able to rely upon their defence. On the back of 16 clean sheets last time around, Chelsea have elected to splash the cash  on additional defensive cover – drafting in Antonio Rüdiger from Roma on a £33 million deal (we looked at him for prospecting the prospects as well), before doubling down with the signing of Tiemoue Bakayoko from Monaco for a reported £40 million. Taken together, these signings signal a strong intention on the behalf of Conte to shore up the backline even further. Though we are yet to see how the starting lineup will shake out (with Rüdiger challenging to potentially displace one of Gary Cahill, David Luiz, or Cesar Azpilicueta), Chelsea look like strong candidates to be among the league leaders in clean sheets once again heading into 2017/18.

The first five fixtures

In spite of an appetising first game at home to Burnley, Chelsea appear to have been handed a tough opening slate of fixtures from which to begin their title defence. FPL’s ticker rates them as such:

Using the Premier League’s own “head-to-head meter”, here is Chelsea’s track record against the above sides, and our thoughts on their imminent matchups:

Burnley (H): 6 games played in PL, 4w Chelsea, 2d, 0w Burnley.

Last season: CHE 3-0 bur / BUR 1-1 che

A comfortable start at home for the reigning Champions. Burnley may have frustrated a number of sides at Turf Moor, but their road form was appalling, conceding almost 2 goals per game. We foresee an easy Chelsea victory to open the campaign and, given the 3-0 victory in GW3 last season, this could be an ideal opportunity for Morata to introduce himself to the Stamford Bridge faithful.

Spurs (A): 50 games played in PL, 26w Chelsea, 19d, 5w Spurs.

Last season: TOT 2-0 che / CHE 2-1 tot

An early season matchup between last year’s top two teams promises fireworks. Last year’s matchups were split, with the home side prevailing in each fixture. Yet going into this season, a big question mark surrounds Tottenham and the speed with which they adapt to their new Wembley surroundings. A tight, cagey game is expected.

Everton (H): 50 games played in PL, 24w Chelsea, 17d, 9w Everton

Last season: CHE 5-0 eve /eve 0-3 CHE

Chelsea thoroughly dismantled Everton in both fixtures last season, racking up an 8-0 aggregate score across their two matchups. We suspect that things may not be quite so easy this time around – with Everton’s defence reinforced by the additions of Jordan Pickford and Michael Keane – but I still fancy Chelsea to come away with a result.

Leicester (A): 22 games played in PL, 13w Chelsea, 5d, 4w Leicester

Last season: lei 0-3 CHE / CHE 3-0 lei

Gameweek 4 sees the two past PL champions square off at the King Power Stadium. Chelsea were comfortable 3-0 victors in each of last season’s matchups, and could prevail again this time around.

Arsenal  (H): 50 games played in PL, 17w Chelsea, 14d, 19w Arsenal

Last season: CHE 3-1 ars / ARS 3-0 che

It was last season’s 3-0 defeat at the hands of Wenger’s Arsenal that prompted a change in Chelsea’s tactics, with the side moving to 3-4-3 formation and promptly stringing together 13 successive victories. This could prove a key early season match for both two sides, and a game that neither manager will want to lose.

The key players

The top targets

Marcos Alonso: following his summer arrival from Fiorentina, it’s fair to say that Alonso’s first season in the PL was an unqualified success. Alonso featured in 31 league games for the Blues, in which he produced 15 clean sheets – an enviable return rate of almost 50%. Playing an advanced wing-back role also allowed the Spaniard to rack up impressive attacking returns, finishing the season with 6 goals and 5 assists. Consequently, Alonso finished the year as the top-scoring defender in points-per-match (ppm) with 5.7, a full half-point clear of second place. For those managers who – like myself – were able to draft in Alonso at his lowest price point (5.9) ahead of his debut, he served as the ultimate set-and-forget defender.

A significant price jump was expected heading into 2017/18, and boy did we get it. Alonso debuts this season at a lofty 7.0 – making him the single most expensive defender in this year’s PL game. Not that this fact has done much to dissuade potential owners – at the time of writing, Alonso currently sits in 12.3% of all fantasy teams, making him a top-15 defender in terms of ownership. Though the price is undoubtedly high, Alonso is among the favourites to finish atop the defensive rankings in the upcoming season, and should provide a reliable option for all prospective owners.

David Luiz: a more cost-effective route into the Blues backline may be found in the form of David Luiz, who featured on our recent bandwagon infographic. Priced a full million lower than his teammate at 6.0, Luiz currently appears to represent the cheapest entry point into that formidable Chelsea defensive line. As ever in life, though, you get what you pay for: Luiz offers a significantly reduced attacking threat with just 1 goal and 1 assist last time around. The possibility of rotation following the signing of Antonio Rüdiger (we have an article on him, too) also looms. While these factors are likely enough to dissuade us from owning him ourselves, an impressive 20% of all fantasy teams currently feature the Brazilian, making currently him the top-owned defender in FPL.

Willian: with Eden Hazard still recovering from a broken ankle sustained while on international duty, opportunity knocks for the creative Will.i.an (priced at 7.0) to step into the lineup for the opening weeks of the season. Chelsea’s player of the season in 2015/16 (a year in which he produced 10 assists and 5 goals despite the burning wreckage that surrounded him), the Brazilian playmaker has often produced impressive numbers in the absence of Hazard. In the six games Willian played without Hazard in all competitions last season, he produced 5 goals – as many as he notched in the 15-game sample in which he featured alongside the Belgian. It therefore seems that the absence of Hazard could enable Willian to score more freely during the opening weeks of the season (for a detailed analysis of Willian’s on/off numbers alongside Eden Hazard, please see this excellent analysis by Ludo on Fantasy Football Scout). Though a date for Hazard’s return is not yet known, approximate estimations have the Belgian returning some time around GW4-6. Investment in Willian could therefore represent an interesting strategy ahead of an early wildcard.

The signing

Alvaro Morata: the one Chelsea signing in line to make an immediate fantasy impact next season.  The 24-year old Spaniard is set to arrive in London on the back of a 20 goal season for European Champions Real Madrid. Impressively, Morata notched those goals in just rotation minutes (see table here): restricting ourselves to his league output (15 goals in 1334 minutes), Morata’s strike rate of 88.9 minutes/goal compares closely to Harry Kane (87.3) and Gabriel Jesus (92.9), and favourably to other premium fantasy options such as Aguero (120.2) and Lukaku (130.7).

Though an imposing figure at 6ft 3in, Morata’s style of play has historically lacked the raw belligerence practiced by his presumable predecessor Diego Costa; choosing instead to rely upon intelligent movement and quick link-up play to spring himself free of defensive attention. Indeed, Morata has played in the past on both the left- and right- side of an attacking three in addition to the central striking role. Expect to see him running the channels willingly at Stamford Bridge – particularly on the counter-attack – and generating space for teammates behind him. While Chelsea’s tough opening fixtures may cause many FPL managers to take a wait-and-see approach on Morata, he clearly has the potential to throw his name into the ring as yet another premium striking option for our consideration.

(We also published a prospecting the prospects on him when the deal was done.)

The punt

Fab assister (Photo by Catherine Ivill – AMA/Getty Images)

Cesc Fàbregas: despite failing to hold down a regular starting spot in Chelsea’s XI, Fàbregas (a candidate for the player on our banner!) proved that his advancing age has done nothing to detract from his creativity. Indeed, the Spaniard led all Chelsea players last season with 15 assists, creating a chance every 23.6 minutes, which tops the rankings among all PL midfielders (minimum 10 chances created). Though the introduction of the aforementioned Bakayoko threatens to crowd the Chelsea midfield, Fàbregas has demonstrated great fantasy potential in spot minutes; and could seize a starting opportunity with both hands.

The blanker

Michy Batshuayi: for one magical moment, things seemed to finally be breaking right for Batshuayi. Following the internal rift between Costa and manager Conte, there appeared to be a chance for the Belgian to force his way into the striking rotation at Stamford Bridge. However, the expected arrival of Alvaro Morata to fill this role has closed the door on Batshuayi’s chances of regular minutes, and we predict a return to his role as a very expensive benchwarmer.

The verdict

Chelsea rode to last year’s title on the back of a tried-and-tested formula that would make even ex-gaffer José Mourinho begrudgingly proud: a watertight defence, a solid ball-winning midfield duo, and enough goals to keep the points ticking over. We have faith in the first two elements remaining intact – the additions of Rüdiger and Bakayoko should even serve to strengthen Chelsea’s defensive spine. Should one of Luiz or Rüdiger (both priced at 6.0) cement a regular starting spot, they could easily stake a strong claim to a premium defensive spot in a plethora of FPL sides. Meanwhile, the attacking potential of wingbacks Victor Moses (6.5) and Marcos Alonso (7.0) make them intriguing, albeit more pricey, premium options.

The third element of this equation remains uncertain – not only do Chelsea have a seemingly unsustainable chance conversion rate due to regress, but it remains to be seen how quickly prospective signing Alvaro Morata can settle into the Blues frontline. The absence of Eden Hazard over the first month of the season could similarly hurt their attacking potential; as does the prospect of rust following his return.

Willian does offer an interesting short-term flier, particularly after a very strong start to the pre-season campaign. Fàbregas may prove more than that should he overcome rotation fears, and Morata is an intriguing prospect in his debut season. When Chelsea’s fixtures soften between GWs 14-27, it seems fairly likely that Morata, Hazard and co will feature heavily on our watchlist during this time frame.

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