International break, completed. Premier League, returned. Chelsea versus Cardiff City, crucial.
Maurizio Sarri’s attention reverts back to pushing Chelsea into a top four spot, perching one point behind fifth placed Manchester United. At the other end of the spectrum, Neil Warnock’s Bluebirds remain in the fight to stay in the top flight, just two points inside the drop zone.
Chelsea ran away 4-1 victors in the two sides’ previous encounter, continuing Cardiff City’s cursed record of not beating The Blues at Stamford Bridge since 1961. On the plus side, the Welsh outfit have won 71% of their points at home; Chelsea should be cautious when entering the Cardiff City stadium.
Upon this clash of the boys in blue, we have created a combined Chelsea and Cardiff statistics line-up, courtesy of WhoScored.com.
Goalkeeper: Neil Etheridge (Cardiff) 6.67
As Cardiff City continue to combat against all odds for their survival, even the idea of it wouldn’t be possible without their man between the sticks. Asides being the first player from the Philippines to play in English Premier League, Neil Etheridge has emerged as one of the finest ‘keepers outside od the top six.
His eight clean sheets sits him fifth overall, impressive considering his sides position. Only Lukas Fabianski of West Ham United has made more saves this term (Fabianski 115, Etheridge 102); nobody has saved more from inside the penalty area however (76).
Right-back: Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea) 6.95
Captain consistency carries Chelsea in terms of professionalism; no one in Blue has played more minutes in the league this year (2,700).
Questions still linger over Cesar Azpilicueta’s favoured position, yet there can be no doubts of his commitment to the role. Aaron Wan-Bissaka of Crystal Palace is the one full-back to have made more tackles (Wan-Bissaka 109, Azpilicueta 80), yet none can match the Spaniard for passes blocked (37).
Centre-back: Sol Bamba (Cardiff) 7.15
Sol Bamba swiftly became a man of the people, following his buoyance and energy despite Cardiff City’s perilous place in the table. His presence will be sorely missed, as the Ivorian is set to miss the remainder of the campaign due to injury.
His statistics speak for themselves in terms of impact; no centre-back has blocked more passes (38), made more tackles (73) or made more interceptions (81).
Centre-back: Sean Morrison (Cardiff) 6.87
Another key figure at the heart of the Cardiff City defence is their leader, Sean Morrison, who had formed a trusty partnership with Bamba before both suffered set-backs.
His contribution has also been evident, as Morrison had made the highest number of key passes for a centre-back in the division (18). Furthermore, only four others have won more of their aerial duals (171).
Left-back: Marcos Alonso (Chelsea) 7.12
With fellow team-mate Emerson breathing down his neck for a starting role, Marcos Alonso’s minutes may be numbered, a string of solid displays will be crucial for his Chelsea future.
The 28-year-old can still pack a punch, as he and Patrick van Aanholt of Crystal Palace share top spot for shots from left-back (39), with 19 of Alonso’s coming inside the penalty area.
Centre-midfield: David Luiz (Chelsea) 7.08
Not his natural role, yet far from an unfamiliar one for David Luiz, who lives for going against the ordinary.
The barmy Brazilian has demonstrated he could operate further afield, playing the most through balls per game of any Chelsea player this campaign (0.4).
Centre-midfield: Jorginho (Chelsea) 6.88
Like many others in the Chelsea camp, Jorginho will greatly appreciate the season finalising sooner rather than later, with his first spell in England a tricky one.
It is no surprise he leads the way for total passes (2553), or accurate short passes (2221), yet scoring only twice and failing to register an assist in the league make for grimmer viewing.
Centre-midfield: N’Golo Kante (Chelsea) 6.94
N’Golo Kante can now class himself as one of the finest foreign additions that the division has witnessed, winning back-to-back titles in teams based around his strengths. Unfortunately, he has been unable to sort Sarri’s fortunes, or even his job possibly.
Less defensive minded than in the championship victories, Jorginho is the only central-midfielder with more accurate short passes (1571), with fellow countryman Paul Pogba of Manchester United marginally in front for successful dribbles (Pogba 32, Kante 28).
Forward: Pedro (Chelsea) 7.03
With a transfer ban looming over the club’s head, the services from the likes of Pedro may be crucial in the coming months, who has had a strong individual campaign.
Much like a fine wine, he gets better with age; of players over the age of 30, nobody has made more successful dribbles (40), with Jamie Vardy of Leicester City the only veteran with a higher number of shots (Vardy 57, Pedro 46).
Forward: Eden Hazard (Chelsea) 7.69
Speaking of transfers, the one any Chelsea fan will fear, plus the one most likely to materialise, will witness Eden Hazard depart Stamford Bridge after seven years of glorious service.
Chelsea’s UEFA Champions League dreams wouldn’t even be fathomable without the Belgian, leading the way for goals (13) amongst his team-mates, assists (11) and short key passes (66) amongst opposing players.
Forward: Willian (Chelsea) 7.12
Another who may be leaving London is a fellow flying wide player, in the shape of Willian. The former Shaktar Donestk man has shone in a dim year, offering a strong supporting role to Hazard.
Nobody in the Chelsea roster has completed more long key passes (14) than Willian this year in then league.
By Nathaniel Kay