There’s no denying it – Chelsea, by their standards, have had a disappointing season, their first under the ownership of Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital who took over from Roman Abramovich almost a year ago.
Chelsea are poised to finish in the bottom half of the Premier League table for the first time since the 1995/96 season, having currently won the same number of games as newly-promoted AFC Bournemouth, and have scored the same number of league goals as Man City‘s Erling Haaland.
Chelsea are achingly awaiting the end of the campaign – after which an exodus of players can occur in the transfer window, and incoming head coach Mauricio Pochettino can take the reigns ahead of pre-season and a new campaign without any European football to focus on a more positive league finish.
Despite this, there are a few positives to take away from an otherwise dismal season. The various arrivals in January have all had a positive effect on the squad and individually shown flashes of promise pointing to a shrewd transfer strategy.
Benoit Badiashile already appears to be a bargain at just over £33 million, exhibiting calmness and a maturity in defence beyond his years. Enzo Fernandez, who cost an extraordinary £106.8 million after a world-class showing at the World Cup, has transformed Chelsea’s midfield both offensively and defensively, and looks a mainstay for the coming era.
Noni Madueke in particular has impressed in recent weeks and should be considered a central figure in a Pochettino set-up moving forward, given his fine form in recent weeks and the unique profile he adds to the squad. Signed from PSV Eindhoven in January for £28.5 million, the 21-year-old dazzled in the Netherlands alongside fellow talents Cody Gakpo and Donyell Malen, catching the eye of European clubs from West Ham to AC Milan.
After joining PSV’s youth set-up in 2018 after a number of years in both Crystal Palace and Tottenham’s academies, Madueke truly broke into the senior side at PSV during the 20/21 season, aged just 18. Primarily featuring off the right-wing whilst also picking up minutes in a central role, the winger scored seven and assisted six in 24 league games – the fourth highest contributions in the squad, averaging a goal or assist every 73 minutes.
Full of pace, directness and attacking instincts down the right-hand side, Madueke’s 1.6 successful dribbles per 90 ranked second in the PSV squad, also showing an eagerness to get shots off from promising areas; both his shots per 90 (4.56) and shots on target per 90 (2.1) ranking in the top one percent over the last 365 days for attackers in Europe’s ‘top five leagues’.
Madueke added the KNVB Cup and a number of Europa League games to his repertoire the following season, his form drawing comparisons to legendary ex-Blue Arjen Robben. One-on-one specialist coach Saul Isaksson-Hurst, said: “Noni’s super-strength is cutting in from the right and working with his left foot, a bit like Arjen Robben. He has everything. He is technically unbelievable. Physically, he’s a specimen — but most important are his mentality and desire to be the best”.
Since his arrival at Stamford Bridge, Madueke initially found game time hard to come by, not helped by the sacking of Graham Potter and arrival of Frank Lampard as interim manager, the latter entering the Chelsea dugout for the second time in his coaching career.
After picking up 175+ minutes across three consecutive games against Fulham, West Ham and Southampton in February, the winger only picked up a further 40 minutes over the course of the following eight league games – an unused sub on six occasions, a brief substitute in two, and not in the matchday squad in a further two.
However, Madueke was entrusted with a starting spot in the team away at Arsenal, and was a bright spark in an otherwise disappointing 3-1 defeat at the Emirates. The winger completed four successful dribbles out of an attempted five, completing the most take-ons in the game, and scoring his first Chelsea goal from an xG figure of 0.17.
The youngster drew praise from both Lampard for this showing, who said: “I thought he was really good against Arsenal in a tough game and got his goal,” as well as teammate Conor Gallagher, who added: “Noni has been waiting for his opportunity and got it against Arsenal and on Saturday, and he showed what he can do. I knew what he’s like because of England Under-21s. He’s very young so he’s got even more to go. It’s very exciting for him to be here.”
Madueke was rewarded with a start the following game away at Bournemouth, and again impressed in terms of directness, pace, progressive play, agility and attacking intent. The winger completed five dribbles from an attempted nine (again the most on the pitch) – becoming the first Chelsea player this season to complete 4+ successful take-ons in back-to-back games
Madueke also recorded the most shots on target in the game (2) as well as the most touches in the opponent’s box with 12, proving a real attacking threat in a team lacking goals and confidence this season. His heat-map for the 76 minutes reveals his impulsiveness to repeatedly enter the opposition box, a trait neither Raheem Sterling or Hakim Ziyech have really shown:
Awarded with a third consecutive start for the first time in his Chelsea career, Madueke again looked positive in the 2-2 home draw with Nottingham Forest, winning eight ground duels and completing 85 percent of his passes in 73 minutes. In fact, Madueke already ranks highest in the Chelsea squad for successful dribbles per 90 with 2.8, 1.5 and 2.0 more than Raheem Sterling and Hakim Ziyech, respectively, and an increase on his spell in the Eredivisie.
Madueke is also already registering 0.8 ‘key passes’ per 90, more than Joao Felix and Christian Pulisic, and the same amount as Raheem Sterling, ranking as Chelsea’s eighth best performer this season according to WhoScored, and the Blues’ best player in attack.
The winger now surely looks an integral member of a Chelsea squad moving forward – still not 22 until next March, and able to offer the directness and dribbling dynamism Chelsea have missed since the days of Willian, Eden Hazard and Pedro.
Context is also very important here when looking at the formation of the squad moving into next season. Hakim Ziyech would currently be in Paris if it weren’t for administrative issues on deadline day and will undoubtedly be one of the first names to depart this summer. Christian Pulisic has also never really kicked on during his time at Chelsea and proved his potential on a consistent basis, and with his contract expiring in 2024, will likely depart this summer.
Raheem Sterling has also ran hot-and-cold this season – showing moments of excellence such as braces at home to Forest and Everton, and a crucial goal against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League, although has had periods of mediocre form, not scoring in 18 league games between January to May, and is also turning 30 next year.
With these factors in mind, and a full pre-season under a new manager in store, Madueke is superbly well-placed to have a brilliant season at Stamford Bridge next term – realistically he can aim for 10-15+ league goal contributions, and a first call-up to England’s senior team.
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