Photo source: Premier League
Chelsea’s January window is shaping up to be one of the most turbulent transfer periods in recent history as the number of rumours linking players to the club has literally exploded since the end of 2018. While there have been several stories revolving around additions to the Blues’ defense and midfield, the conundrum at centre-forward is certainly the most heatedly debated of them all. The search for a replacement of Chelsea’s former record signing Alvaro Morata is currently the dominant topic at Stamford Bridge as the Spaniard’s departure is edging ever closer. A factor which could very well influence our choice of targets is the necessity to fulfill the Premier League’s homegrown quota and Marina Granovskaia and co. will be working towards finding a solution.
At the moment, Chelsea have exactly 8 homegrown players in their squad, namely Ross Barkley, Gary Cahill, Andreas Christensen, Danny Drinkwater, Cesc Fabregas, Rob Green, Victor Moses and, last but not least, Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Half of these players are currently being linked with a move away as Fabregas’ departure to Monaco was announced yesterday and Drinkwater, Cahill and Moses are all expected to leave in search for regular football elsewhere this January. Due to the Premier League ruling stating that clubs are only allowed 17 non-homegrown players of a maximum squad size of 25, this would lead to Chelsea needing the one or the other British player joining in order to comply with these rules.
If one therefore takes Chelsea’s woes at centre-forward and requirement of homegrown players into consideration, the logical consequence is that the club will also be having a look at English strikers; two such players rumoured to be on the Blues’ transfer wish list are Callum Wilson and Jamie Vardy. Below, I will be having a look at their stats this season and how the two strikers compare to Chelsea’s possibly prime transfer target, Gonzalo Higuaín.
Starting off with the more likely option of the two, Callum Wilson has been thoroughly enjoying himself this season as some good performances for AFC Bournemouth have led to the 26-year old being rewarded with his first England call-up and cap. Scoring 9 goals and recording 6 assists in 20 games, the striker has contributed largely to the Cherries currently sitting comfortably 9 points above the relegation zone. Eddie Howe’s brand of football is very attacking minded for a club of Bourenmouth’s stature and, as Chelsea follows a similar pattern attacking-wise, one could be tempted to say that Callum Wilson may turn out to be the perfect fit for Maurizio Sarri’s system. Or is he?
One of the most vital attributes a striker should have to play ‘Sarrismo’ adequately is his ability to take part in the interplay between the midfield and the other attackers. So, if we were to compare the league stats of Wilson with, for instance, Gonzalo Higuaín, a centre-forward that has been highly successful in exactly that role, then the former’s average passes and key passes per game (14.9 and 1.3) do illustrate that the latter is ahead of him (22.1 and 1.64). Add to this that Higuaín possesses a far higher pass success rate of 83.7% compared to the Englishman’s 67.1% and one can see a gap emerging. While the two get dispossessed nearly equally as much on average (Wilson 1.6 vs. Higuain 1.7), the Bournemouth striker miscontrols the ball about 3.2 times per game compared to Higuaín’s 2.3.
In the attacking department, ‘Pipita’s’ overall shots and shots on target per game (3.7 and 1.2) are very much superior in number to those of Wilson (2.1 and 0.9), though it’s worth noting that the Argentinian has scored 3 goals less than the England international. Nevertheless, Higuaín is also able to record 2.4 dribbles per game, which is quite a bit more than Wilson’s 1.4, and a constitutes a trait whose importance to Sarri’s style of play shouldn’t be underestimated. In short, the current AC Milan striker is not only the greater threat and, on paper, possesses better dribbling and finishing skills, but he also beats the Englishman in regard to his passing range and skills.
Stats are of course not everything in football and it’d be unfair to write off Wilson merely because of him being outperformed by one of the best striker’s in the world in recent years. However, if Pipita’s still able to best him in basically all these areas important for ‘Sarriball’ while being 31-years old, playing in a dysfunctional Milan side (which is severely lacking in the chances created department) and, to top things off, is supposedly ‘in decline’ then it does show who’d presumably be more successful for Chelsea now.
Coming to the second homegrown option we’ve been linked to, Jamie Vardy, a striker who contributed largely to their title winning season, refused a move to Arsenal and so cemented his status as a living legend in the Foxes’ hearts, is the one player we all associate with Leicester City nowadays and he’s certainly their star player. 96 goals/43 assists in 253 appearances is quite a good return for a man who was playing non-league football not too long ago and therefore credit where credit’s due; however, Vardy’s form this season hasn’t been as fine as it has been in earlier times with 3 of his 7 goals coming from penalties in 17 games. In short, the already 32-year old may very well be in decline.
If we conduct the same comparison as we did above, Jamie Vardy’s stats do make it seem as if the chances of the striker adapting to Maurizio Sarri’s system are slim as the former England international’s passing accuracy of 57.5% is by far the worst out of Higuaín, Wilson and himself. Vardy’s passes and key passes per game accumulate to 10.9 and 0.6 on average, and this is certainly not the sort of numbers we’d be hoping for if he were to join Chelsea. Two areas in which the centre-forward certainly bests the other rumoured options are in regard to being dispossessed and miscontrolling the ball as these only happen approximately 0.6 and 1.4 times per game, respectively. One can see that Vardy definitely knows how to handle himself around defenders but his passing stats are far too bad to fit into Chelsea’s current style of play. Of course, Leicester City play an entirely different brand of football, punting the ball up front more often than not and playing on the counter, which relativises these stats to a certain extent.
To be as prolific as he was last season scoring 20 goals in 37 games, Vardy lives off his off the ball movement and the spaces he and his team mates create. If he is given said space and time to run in behind then Vardy can certainly be extremely lethal in attack; the problem is, though, that Chelsea utilize a possession based style of play in which counter attacks are far less frequent than is the case with Leicester City and going up against a packed defense has never been one of Vardy’s strengths. The lightning-quick striker does record about 2.1 and 1.2 overall shots and shots on target per game, making him hit the target just as much as Higuaín and more than Wilson, but his 0.2 dribbles per game underline that Vardy isn’t the kind of player you’d want leading the line for Sarriball as a centre-forward possessing good technique is just as key as any other attribute to succeed in Sarri’s system.
While I mentioned that stats are to be regarded with caution in football in regard to Callum Wilson, they do illustrate that Jamie Vardy’s virtues aren’t necessarily tailor made for Chelsea at this moment in time. Had he been brought in under Antonio Conte then it wouldn’t have been entirely unexpected if Vardy had flourished at Stamford Bridge. Now, however, the centre-forward is definitely not what the Blues currently need, at least not if we’re evaluating him on his stats this season.
Chelsea undoubtedly need to strengthen themselves up front and getting the business done sooner rather than later is imperative, especially if said striker’s name isn’t Gonzalo Higuaín and therefore needs time to adapt to Sarri’s philosophy of football. However, both options discussed in this article are underwhelming and a big risk for different reasons; Wilson’s hefty price tag, injury proneness and wastefulness in front of goal are highly reminiscent of Chelsea’s current striker, Alvaro Morata. Vardy, on the other hand, may be more efficient in front of goal but is tailor made for a system we simply do not play, constantly needing space to run in behind and not being the best passer of the ball. Add to this that the Leicester City man just turned 32 and that it’s highly doubtful whether Vardy would even contemplate leaving after already turning down a big move in the past, and the Callum Wilson deal looks like the better option of the two.
If we do end up purchasing the Bournemouth striker then we can only hope that Maurizio Sarri would improve him massively in a short period of time and finally end Chelsea’s woes at centre-forward.
Written by Jimmy Funnell (@JimmyFunnellCFC)
Also make sure to check out Terry Sazio’s very informative article on Callum Wilson as he takes a closer look at how the Bournemouth man compares to Chelsea’s current strikers and also attempts to answer the question whether or not he’s worth his hefty price tag.