Following Chelsea’s narrow 1-0 win over Bolton on Tuesday, the Chelsea online chatrooms were awash with criticism of Ancelotti for fielding the wrong side. Some of the arguments focused on the omission of Cole and Malouda on the flanks, but on the whole the debate focused on one issue alone: should Chelsea start with just Drogba, just Anelka or both?
It’s an interesting debate: on the one hand, Chelsea seem to have scored more freely in recent months when Anelka has led the line alone, but on the other it seems implausible to leave out a striker who has already scored more than 30 goals this season. Equally, Chelsea seem to put in substandard performances when both are on the pitch at the same time.
But a lot of the argument focuses on how fans intuitively feel about how the team is working. And quite right too – football is far from an exact science. But do we have a real sense of how the team has really performed with just one of Drogba or Anelka, or with both together? Probably not beyond a superficial understanding.
I’ll write another post over the next 24 hours on what I think the answer is, but in the meantime I collected detailed stats on how the team has performed with either just one of Drogba or Anelka starting, or with both, in addition to basic stats about how two have performed over the last eight or nine months. I’ve looked at the team’s results, goals scored and conceded and how each player has performed under each of the systems.
My conclusions in full will follow in the next post but in the meantime, how do you think these figures add to the debate? Post a comment…
Drogba has ‘contributed’ more goals
Of course, this isn’t surprising. But Drogba has been far more effective than Anelka, scoring 32 goals and making 13 assists to the Frenchman’s 13 goals and 8 assists.
It’s easy to see the stark difference between the two when looking at their performances in the league. Both players have broadly had the same opportunity (allowing for the fact that when played together Anelka has often been pushed wide), Drogba having 2,411 minutes on the pitch, Anelka 2,388. In scoring 25 goals, Drogba has put the ball in the net on average once every 96 minutes. Add assists to that (and penalties won), the Ivorian has contributed a goal once every 60 minutes. Anelka lies far behind that, taking nearly three times longer to score a goal at an average of one every 265 minutes. Add assists and penalty wins into the mix, and he has contributed a goal every 140 minutes on average.
And Drogba’s goals are far more significant
It isn’t just that Drogba has scored more goals – he’s scored more important ones, too. 20% of Drogba’s 25 league goals this season have come against teams currently in the top four, and 40% against teams in the top half. In contrast, Anelka hasn’t scored against top four opposition, and 78% of his goals have come against teams in the bottom half of the table.
Just as I compared the effectiveness of Drogba and Rooney last month – giving a number of ‘points’ for each goal based on the league position of the team against which it was scored - I’ve done the same with Drogba and Anelka. I gave a range of points from 19 (for each goal scored against the team currently placed second in the table, Man Utd) to one (for each goal scored against the team currently 20th in the table, Portsmouth). The grid opposite – click to enlarge - shows where the Chelsea strikers have scored their goals, and how these ‘points’ were awarded. It isn’t unsurprising that Drogba is so far ahead, scoring 237 ‘points’ to Anelka’s 66 (he’s scored many more goals), but the difference is exaggerated by the higher calibre of opposition his goals have come against.
It isn’t just who goals have been scored against that have made Drogba’s goals more significant. In total Drogba has scored Chelsea’s first goal in 17 games, including against five sides currently in the top half of the league and twice against teams in the top four. On the other hand, Anelka has scored the first goal just ten times, but only once against a team in the top half of the table.
They’ve played together more than you think
Chelsea have played 50 games in total so far this season, and Drogba and Anelka have started together in exactly half of them. Drogba has led the line alone 10 times (20%), Anelka 11 times (22%). And for the record: neither Drogba nor Anelka have started in just three of those games (6%) and didn’t play at all in just one (2%).
Interestingly (and intuitively it makes sense), Ancelotti has been much more willing to play Drogba on his own away from home, with just 30% (3) of those games being played at Stamford Bridge. In contrast, of the games Anelka has started without Drogba, 64% (7) have been at home.
Chelsea win more when Anelka starts alone
Of the 25 matches Chelsea have started with both Drogba and Anelka, Chelsea have a fairly average win ratio of 60%. Worse still, they only drew three of those games (12%), losing seven (28%).
The record when Drogba starts alone is a little better. Chelsea have still won just 60% of those games (6), but are also unbeaten, drawing four during Chelsea’s December slump in form. In contrast, Chelsea’s results when Anelka have started alone are far more impressive, with Chelsea having won all of their games. It has to be said however that those games included just two sides currently in the top half of the Premier League in addition to two promoted sides, one relegated side and one team from the Championship.
Chelsea score more when just one starts
Ancelotti’s men have scored far more goals when either Drogba or Anelka have started upfront alone. When both have been selected together, Chelsea have scored just 1.96 goals per game, and when Drogba has started alone the rate increases to 2.5 goals per game. The record with Anelka starting without Drogba is far better again, averaging out at 3.2 goals per game, no doubt because of the seven-goal hauls against Sunderland and Aston Villa.
…and they concede more when Drogba starts alone
When Drogba has started alone, Chelsea have conceded at a rate of one goal per game. Chelsea are more effective defensively both when Anelka starts alone (conceding 0.55 goals per game) and when they both start (0.92 goals per game), but this isn’t surprising bearing in mind the greater number of away games played when Drogba has started alone, and the relatively more straightforward opposition faced when Anelka has.
Drogba scores under any system, Anelka doesn’t
Whether playing with or without Anelka, Drogba’s form has been such this season that he’s carried on scoring at pretty much the same rate. In games he’s started on his own, Drogba has scored nine goals (0.9 per game). With Anelka, he’s scored 21 goals (0.8 per game).
Anelka on the other hand doesn’t perform in front of goal when he’s played alongside Drogba and isn’t given a true centre-forward berth. When the Frenchman has started on his own he’s scored seven goals (0.6 per game), but when playing with Drogba he’s only scored six, his rate falling to a fairly miserable 0.24 goals per game.
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