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Chelsea are partying like its 2016/17. Their impressive new manager has come in, switched the side to playing with a back three just as Antonio Conte did in his first campaign, and they are looking untouchable.
The Blues are the only team who are unbeaten in the Premier League since Thomas Tuchel was appointed, and they’ve only conceded twice in his nine league matches in charge too.
Saturday 12:30: Leeds v Chelsea
BT Sport 1
Chelsea’s newfound defensive solidity is in stark contrast to yer da’s least favourite team, Leeds United. Bores will drone on and tell you Marcelo Bielsa should play more defensively, but as only three newly promoted teams in the Premier League have won more of their first 27 games – and none have done so for 14 years – then why on earth should he change tack?
However, while Bielsa’s firm belief in his system and tactical principles is admirable it hasn’t helped his side to many high profile results over the established top teams in 2020/21.
Leeds have only taken two points from the big six clubs so far this season, after drawing with Manchester City and Arsenal. Their success has come in the mini-league of the 14 smaller teams, in which they head into the weekend in third place. Their 11 wins against their contemporaries are why the Bielsa boys have all-but secured their spot in the top flight for next season.
And for all that the Frank Lampard-led iteration of Chelsea had trouble beating teams in the top half of the table, they didn’t have too many issues against the strugglers and stragglers. The Blues have won 10, drawn four and lost just once against the teams who go into the weekend in the bottom 10 of the Premier League.
Their previous encounter with Leeds was particularly one-sided too. Although the 3-1 score line suggests it was close, Chelsea had seven clear-cut chances and amassed 4.9 expected goals, the joint-most by any team in a Premier League match this season.
While that was the low point on the underlying statistics for the Whites, they have conceded three goals – both expected and actual – per match against the big six this season, so as long as Chelsea’s chances fall to someone other than Timo Werner, they should have enough to overcome the handicap and win by two goals.
With a midweek Champions League match against Atletico Madrid to follow after this game, Chelsea will be looking to get the result in the bag as early as they possibly can. Fortunately for them, Leeds have conceded more first half goals than any other team in the Premier League this season. In fact, their total of 29 let in prior to the interval is more than the Blues have conceded in total during their 2020/21 league campaign.
And while Chelsea have been more productive after they’ve enjoyed a half time orange – scoring 27 of their 44 league goals in second halves this season – they’ve been wasteful early on and should’ve scored more than they have. And as the time Leeds average their first goal against is equal to when Chelsea score theirs (40 minutes), don’t nip out of the room at about 1:10pm. You’ve been warned.
Considering the Blues’ record under Tuchel, it might seem strange to suggest there will be at least three goals in this match. Only one of their nine league matches under the German has paid out on over 2.5 goals and it took a bizarre own goal from Toni Rudiger at Bramall Lane for that single instance to occur.
But Leeds’ matches have featured the most goals in the top flight on average, and although that has been more apparent away from home, three of their four matches at Elland Road against the current top six have seen three-or-more goals. Bielsa’s side won’t stop attacking even against a defensively sound Chelsea team, so there should be over 2.5 goals.
While it’s hard to know who Tuchel will select for this match it feels like an outing for Olivier Giroud, for one main reason: Leeds are weak defensively in the air. The Whites have conceded 11 goals from headers this season, which is almost double the league average of six per team.
And every stats nerd worth his salt knows that Chelsea’s number 18 is the current player with the most headed goals in the Premier League, so he should get some decent opportunities on Saturday lunchtime if he plays. Giroud also scored Chelsea’s first goal when these teams last met (albeit Patrick Bamford had already netted for Leeds) and he stands a good chance of breaking the deadlock here too.
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