With their 2-0 loss at Everton on Sunday, Chelsea's rhythmless season is seemingly settling into a pattern -- one in which average performances are the norm, natural advantages are squandered, and inconsistent results are the natural conclusion.
Such was the case at Goodison Park, where Chelsea had 70.9% possession and outshot Everton 16-9 but seemed wholly unprepared for an Everton team that knows how to excel in this exact type of situation. That said, Mauricio Pochettino's side could have mustered more in this game but they managed to put just four of their shots on target, one fewer than Sean Dyche's team, and they lost the expected goals battle 0.93 to 1.08.
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Sunday's attacking output is representative of Chelsea's showing all season. They rank anywhere from eighth to 10th in the Premier League for goals, shots, shots on target, and shot on target percentage, which passes the eye test during an up-and-down season in which the team is battling an injury crisis that has impacted Pochettino's plans at the start of his spell in charge.
The glaring gap is the one left by Christopher Nkunku, who was signed as the focal point for a new offense envisioned by Pochettino but has yet to play for the team after undergoing knee surgery. Ben Chillwell, who seemed to take an early liking to the new manager's attacking system that values wingback contribution, has also been out of the squad since September with a hamstring issue.
There's another theme from the Everton game that has been a recurring storyline all season long for the Blues, though. Despite their struggles, Chelsea have wasted some of the opportunities they have created. They are actually fourth in the league for expected goals with 30.69 but are underperforming on that statistic with just 26 goals in 16 games.
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It's hard not to look at Pochettino's current options and think there's room for improvement. Nicolas Jackson leads the team with six league goals but three of them came in the bizarre 4-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur last month in which the opposition lost four of their starters to injury and suspension. Right behind him with five is Raheem Sterling, but the England international is clearly not in peak form and between them and their supporting cast, the average performances are delivering average results.
It also raises some questions about Pochettino's early direction of the squad. He was hired to build upon his promising spell at Spurs where they finished as high as second in the league and played in a Champions League final on the back of an impressive high press but has not been able to deliver on his vision four months into his stay at Stamford Bridge. The sample size is small and with missing talent and it is too early to issue an indictment on his time as the Chelsea manager, but his win percentage currently sits at 42%. It's better than his predecessor Graham Potter's 38%, but below the 52% Frank Lampard mustered in his first spell in charge and notably below Thomas Tuchel's 60%.
Pochettino's Chelsea still has a better expected goals score per match (1.92) than Tuchel's 2021-22 team (1.86), which finished third in the league that season and won the Champions League. Tuchel's group, though, set the standard in recent years for the Blues and Pochettino's squad is falling short of that mark at the moment -- Tuchel's team averaged two goals a game in the league while Pochettino's side is currently at 1.63, while the comparison is 15.58 to 13.56 for shots. Tuchel's group also averaged 5.55 shots on goal per game, while Pochettino's squad is at 4.81.
Pochettino's Spurs team was also a slow build but while he hopes that returning players can improve things, it is not the only problem on his hands. His Chelsea team boasts an equally average defensive showing as the offensive output, which is perhaps a more glaring example of underperforming considering the talent and resources available. The Blues have conceded the eighth most goals in the Premier League this season with 26 and have the highest goals against average of any Chelsea team in the last four seasons with 1.63 per game. Tuchel's 2021-22 team, by comparison, sat at just 0.87.
While four months may be too small a period to judge any manager, it is clear that at this point in the Pochettino era, the ideas are not sticking. It means that at least for the time being, the Blues are resigned to being a editable team in just about every meaningful category despite the talent on hand, the resources available to them, and the preseason expectations.