Chelsea have a crossing problem.
It’s one that has been exacerbated by the absences of both Ben Chilwell and Reece James and they have looked reluctant to centre the ball when it has been moved into wide positions.
James will be absent at Norwich City on Thursday night due to a muscular injury picked up as he adjusts to first-team football once again after a spell on the sidelines and it is an ill-timed setback given how impressive he was at Burnley at the weekend.
Whether it is from wide areas, deeper or cutbacks from the byline, the Blues‘ lack of crossing is just one of the factors that should be considered when assessing why Manchester City and Liverpool have stolen a march at the top of the Premier League.
Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola’s sides are the only teams to have completed more than 400 crosses this campaign compared to Chelsea’s 322 by comparison, as per FBref.
While it hasn’t been entirely Callum Hudson-Odoi’s fault – having averaged just 64.4 minutes per Premier League game this season – the Cobham graduate has faced criticism from fans for his apparent reluctance to beat a full-back and drive a ball into the box.
Equally, Havertz has also been guilty of not pulling the trigger when an opportunity arises to slide the ball across the face of goal.
But Tuchel will know all too well from the forward’s time in Germany that he has the capacity to combine with a wide player and his former teammate at Bayer Leverkusen in Moussa Diaby would be the potential perfect foil for Havertz.
Newcastle United are rumoured to be one interested party ahead of the summer with a possible £75m move having been mooted.
The pair’s combination in Bayer Leverkusen’s 4-1 win over Paderborn nearly two years ago highlights a simple but effective pattern of play that the Blues need to produce more consistently if they are to sustain pressure on opposition defences, something both City and Liverpool are masters of.
Leverkusen are keen to extract £75m for the Frenchman, according to the Daily Mail, and that is the same price Chelsea shelled out to lure Havertz to Stamford Bridge two summers ago.
Diaby and Havertz proved their ability as a partnership in that Paderborn game, latching onto a ball played in behind before beating his marker and whipping a delivery to the back post with a daisy-cutting cross.
Chelsea’s No.29 was picked out by the Frenchman’s pass before slotting home; the pattern of play illustrated how Romelu Lukaku too could be a potential beneficiary with a greater frequency, and variety, of crosses.
Speaking on talkSPORT, Gabriel Agbonlahor discussed the problems that Chelsea have faced during Chilwell and James’ absences.
“When I look at Chelsea, I look at how much they miss Reece James and Ben Chilwell,” he said.
“You’ve got quality players to fill in like [Marcos] Alonso and [Cesar] Azpilicueta, but they’re not as good. How many goals has [Romelu] Lukaku scored from crosses from Chilwell and James?
“I actually felt sorry for Lukaku [against Brighton]. The only way he was going to score was if he took a couple of players on and got a shot off.”
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The former Premier League striker then referenced Raheem Sterling and Riyhad Mahrez as the benchmark that Chelsea’s creators must strive to emulate.
“For me, he was starved of service from anyone. [Callum] Hudson-Odoi, [Hakim] Ziyech weren’t putting anything on a plate for him.
“The likes of him, Hudson-Odoi and [Christian] Pulisic have to look at [Raheem] Sterling, [Riyad] Mahrez at Man City and look at what they’re doing. That’s what makes you champions.
“Look at Chelsea now, they’re a million miles off it. All over the pitch as well. Alonso is getting found out.”
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