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Mathematical Musings: Can Chelsea Rebound or are The Blues Doomed?

Chelsea fans and those who invested in the team's players for their fantasy squads have been panicking this season with plenty of reason. Looking at recent history as a guide, is there any real hope for a turnaround or is it a lost cause?

Was the 2014-15 title celebration real or was it all just a crazy dream?
Was the 2014-15 title celebration real or was it all just a crazy dream?
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

The world has seen its share of epic disasters. Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo. The sinking of the Titanic. Jewel's book of poetry, A Night without Armor.

Chelsea's season may not quite be up to the level of those imbroglios, but it is probably not terribly far off. The Blues rampaged to a comfortable title win last season, but eight games into this campaign -- more than 20% of the season -- they are mired in 16th place, a mere two places above the final team slated for relegation.

Father Time seems finally to have caught up with Cesc Fabregas, Branislav Ivanovic and John Terry, who look like they're running in quicksand mixed with Super Glue and peanut butter. Younger stars Eden Hazard (reigning Premier League Player of the Year) and Nemanja Matic -- who I thought was Chelsea's co-MVP least season -- appear lost. Barcelona import Pedro enjoyed a bright start with two goals and an assist in his first pair of games, but has provided little since and found himself outside of the starting line-up against Southampton, bringing back memories of Juan Cuadrado's marginalization last season. Victor Moses was loaned out to West Ham. Keeper Thibaut Courtois is struggling with injury, while former back-up Petr Cech is over at Arsenal performing brilliantly. Last year's scoring star Diego Costa has barely found the net and is currently suspended. The failed acquisition of Everton's John Stones played out in the press for an extended period of time. Jose Mourinho has publicly criticized some from the squad, while remaining loyal to others who look to be playing worse. He even instigated an ugly spat with the now former team doctor for having the audacity to do her job in tending to what looked to be an injured player on the pitch.

The players look exhausted mentally and physically from last season's long, wearying title campaign and from Mourinho's unceasing string of mind games. Will things continue down the path toward destruction or is there any hope for a turnaround? Let's survey the damage by the numbers.  Just how badly have things gone this season?

Season Standing Pts v. Leader (or 2nd pl.) Pts/Gm Goals/Gm Goals Allowed/Gm Goal Diff./Gm
2015-16 (through 8 games) #16 -10 1.0 1.5 2.1 -0.6
2014-15 (through 8 games) #1 +5 2.8 2.9 1.0 +1.9
2014-15 (full season) #1 +8 2.3 1.9 0.8 +1.1

At this point in the season last year, Chelsea was already running away with the title, five points ahead of second place Manchester City. This time around, it is 10 points off the pace, a net loss of 15 points, or almost two points per game. Chelsea is scoring less goals per game less than it did compared to the full 2014-15 season, but the more extreme implosion has come on the defensive end, where it has gone from giving up the fewest goals in the league (32, which translates to 0.8 per game), to a whopping 2.1 goals per game, tied with Newcastle for second most, less than only Sunderland. Not good company, to say the least.

A Comparison with Recent Premier League History

How does this fit into recent historical context? You know what, it's not that easy to repeat as Premier League champion! Following Chelsea's back-to-back titles in 2004-05 and 2005-06 and Manchester United's trio from 2006-07 through 2008-09, the past six champions have all been different from the prior season (though there has not been much variety as they have rotated between Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City). In that sense, you certainly have to give Chelsea a break.

Then again, Chelsea's form in the first eight games looks undeniably atrocious on the surface. But how horrible is it really? Looking at the past six seasons when there has been turnover in the top spot, how do the Blues stack up?  This is a gander at how reigning champions have fared in the next full campaign when they lost the title, compared to Chelsea's eight game start:

Season Team Standing Pts vs. Leader Pts/Gm Goals/Gm Goals Allowed/Gm Goal Diff./Gm
2015-16 Chelsea (through 8 games) #16 -10 1.0 1.5 2.1 -0.6
2014-15 Man. City (full season) #2 -8 2.1 2.2 1.0 +1.1
2013-14 Man. Utd. (full season) #7 -22 1.7 1.7 1.1 +0.6
2012-13 Man. City (full season) #2 -11 2.1 1.7 0.9 +0.8
2011-12 Man. Utd. (full season) #2 0 2.3 2.3 0.9 +1.4
2010-11 Chelsea (full season) #2 -9 1.9 1.8 0.9 +0.9

Indeed, Chelsea looks well off the mark. In fact, from 2004-05 through 2014-15, every defending champion has finished either #1 or #2 except Manchester United in 2013-14, the infamous season where David Moyes took over for the retired Alex Ferguson. United finished in 7th place, which was viewed as an abject failure, but the Red Devils still managed to outscore their opponents at a fairly strong clip and could have fared better in the standings with some better luck. Arsenal grabbed the vital fourth slot that season with a goal differential of +27, compared to +22 for United. Going back further, only two Premier League champions ever (the Premier League began in 1992-93) have finished outside of the top three the following season, with Blackburn's #7 finish in 1995-96 matching the recent Manchester United debacle.

That is over the full season, though. How does Chelsea compare to those title holders' performance from the past 10 seasons through the first eight games of the season? Have any of the other title holders fallen off as egregiously through the same period and managed to turn things around?

Season Team (through 8 games*) Standing Pts vs. Leader Pts/Gm Goals/Gm Goals Allowed/Gm Goal Diff./Gm
2015-16 Chelsea #16 -10 1.0 1.5 2.1 -0.6
2014-15 Man. City #2 -5 2.1 2.3 1.0 +1.3
2013-14 Man. Utd. #8 -8 1.4 1.4 1.3 +0.1
2012-13 Man. City #2 -1 2.3 2.0 1.0 +1.0
2011-12 Man. Utd. #2 -5 2.2 2.9 1.3 +2.0
2010-11 Chelsea #1 +2 2.4 2.9 0.3 +2.6
2009-10 Man. Utd. #1 +1 2.4 2.3 1.0 +1.3
2008-09 Man. Utd. #6 -8 1.9 1.6 0.6 +1.0
2007-08 Man. Utd. #2 -2 2.2 1.2 0.2 +1.0
2006-07 Chelsea #2 0 2.4 1.7 0.6 +1.1

*Note: The statistics in the table above are compiled from historical standings utilizing the tab of 8 matches played for each season, but due to unbalanced schedules in a few cases some teams played 8 games while others played 9.

Again, the Southwest Londoners come out looking pretty ugly.  Chelsea has an average goal differential of -0.6 per game, while every other defending champion in the past decade was at least in the black.  Manchester United from 2013-14 was at +0.1, the only team below +1.0.  Going back further, the only other team other than 2013-14 Manchester United outside the top six in the standings after eight games was Blackburn in 1994-95, which sat in 14th place, 14 points off the leader and saddled with a goal differential of -3.

Chelsea may take some solace in that it is only 10 points off the leader, which does not look impossibly insurmountable by any means; Manchester City was not able to keep up its blistering start. Even so, most returning champions were in first or second place at this point, or in the case of 2008-09 Manchester United its underlying numbers looked better than its #6 standing.

So, we're squarely looking at Manchester United's 2013-14 team and Blackburn's 1994-95 squad as comparisons, only Chelsea's current situation looks considerably worse than the former and slightly poorer than the latter. Blackburn managed to crawl from #14 after eight games up to #7 by the end of the season, while United nudged up from #8 to #7.  Is an even bigger jump from #16 up to #7 in the standings all that Chelsea can grab at for a best case scenario? Is that even asking too much?

A Deeper Look at Chelsea's Performance and Prospects

How is Chelsea playing? Is there any solace to be found from a deeper look into its peripheral statistics?  Is it possible that the team is actually playing well, but getting unlucky results?

Goals Clean Sheets PKs YC RC Shots SOT Saves Corners Fouls Conceded Possession
Chelsea 12 1 0 14 2 125 35 34 48 102 59%
Opponents 17 1 2 20 2 110 51 25 50 108 41%

Chelsea boasts a strong edge in possession, while committing less yellow card offenses and firing off more shots than its opposition. However, it has actually allowed many more shots on target than it has taken, it has allowed two penalty kicks while earning none and the foul and corner kick numbers are fairly even. Given those statistics, you would expect a sub -.500 team with a negative goal differential, and that's exactly what you have.

How about its schedule? Is there a silver lining in its strength of opponents? Has Chelsea encountered a particularly tough run of fixtures that should soften in the remainder of the first half? Taking out its opponents' matches against Chelsea, the Blues' opponents combined otherwise have a record of 21 wins, 15 draws and 19 losses - slightly above .500, with 73 goals scored and 65 allowed. Chelsea has already played Manchester City and Arsenal. The fixtures to finish out the first half feature Aston Villa, West Ham, Stoke, Liverpool, Norwich, Tottenham, Bournemouth, Leicester City, Sunderland, Watford and Manchester United. Things do get a bit easier, but then again, Chelsea has drawn against Newcastle and barely managed to beat West Brom.

The Fantasy Perspective

For a fantasy outlook in the official BPL game, the problem is that everybody is paying inflated 2014-15 prices for subpar 2015-16 performances, leaving the disparity between price and scoring absolutely obscene. Hazard is still the most expensive midfielder in the game but has managed only the 20th most points. Ivanovic and Terry are the two most expensive defenders while they've only posted the 71st and 129th most points in the position, respectively.  Costa has the second highest price tag for a striker though he's returned the 26th most points.  Matic is the only Chelsea player who seems like an actual bargain for his price, and otherwise Mikel and Willian are the only ones who offer fair value.

Position Player Points Last Season Pos. Rank Points This Season Pos. Rank Cost Pos. Rank
GK Courtois 121 #7(T) 7 #24 5.3 #4
GK Begovic 106 #12 16 #19(T) 5.0 #7(T)
D Ivanovic 179 #1 10 #71(T) 6.7 #1(T)
D Terry 177 #2 0 #129(T) 6.7 #1(T)
D Azpillicueta 132 #8 25 #24(T) 6.0 #9(T)
D Cahill 130 #9(T) 11 #68(T) 6.3 #4(T)
D Zouma 40 #87 20 #48(T) 5.5 #18(T)
M Hazard 233 #1 32 #20(T) 11.3 #1
M Fabregas 165 #5 20 #55(T) 8.6 #9(T)
M Oscar 126 #19 12 #93(T) 8.3 #12(T)
M Willian 104 #27 27 #32(T) 6.8 #28(T)
M Matic 90 #43(T) 22 #48(T) 4.9 #108(T)
M Ramires 55 #87(T) 9 #113(T) 5.3 #80(T)
M Mikel 28 #116 6 #130(T) 4.4 #147(T)
M Pedro N/A N/A 27 #32(T) 9.3 #5
F Costa 150 #3 18 #26 10.9 #2
F Falcao 76 #26(T) 12 #32(T) 9.3 #5
F Remy 64 #31 7 #44(T) 7.1 #15(T)

Clearly you should avoid Chelsea players in official BPL fantasy, unless you are looking for a cheap midfielder in Matic. There are simply too many better choices. The pickings in the other portals are slim as well. In Fantrax, Asmir Begovic ($2,758) is blindingly cheap and should deputize in the nets for a couple months until Courtois returns from injury, allowing you to afford higher priced studs elsewhere if so desired. In priceless Togga Perfect XI, Hazard is actually the 5th highest scoring midfielder and Pedro is the 8th highest scoring striker, so either could warrant selection when faced with a friendly fixture. If Chelsea can improve, of course, and if it can forge a reliable starting 11, then its players will start to look more attractive in fantasy. But what do you think the chances are of that happening?

The Answer to the Big Question

Will Chelsea rebound or are the Blued doomed?  Those are the two choices, yes?

On the one hand, you have to have hope. It may be too late for the rapidly aging likes of Fabregas, Ivanovic and Terry, but there is a strong combination of skill, youth and experience between Azpillicueta, Costa, Courtois, Hazard, Matic, Oscar, Pedro and Willian. Combined with less familiar players like Kenedy, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Baba Rahman and Kurt Zouma, perhaps Mourinho can get the magic touch back, finding the right line-up and pushing the right buttons.  Or a new coach could come in and light a fire under the players. Stones and/or other reinforcements brought in before the next transfer deadline would surely help make a strong push back up the table. If only Chelsea would start drawing penalties instead of committing them, Hazard and company could get things going again. The Blues are only seven points behind the coveted fourth spot. There are 30 games left, plenty of time and opportunity. All it takes is a little winning streak to get things going again, and the schedule is not too imposing.

On the other hand, the fact remains that this is the worst championship hangover we have seen before in the Premier League era. Ever. The general feeling was that Chelsea's 2014-15 title came in a down season for the league. Other top teams stocked up with notable additions (Manchester City with Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Nicolas Otamendi; Manchester United with Anthony Martial, Memphis Depay and Matteo Darmian; Arsenal with Cech while Theo Walcott's return to full health is almost like another addition), improving in the process. The Blues held pat for the most part and have been left exposed, with resultant doom and gloom. There is clearly a severe disconnect between the players and Mourinho as well as the owner and the manager that may be past the breaking point. Even if miserable Mou is replaced, as we've seen from the transition from Ferguson to Moyes and then Van Gaal at Old Trafford, and even with the Carlo Ancelotti / Andre Villas-Boas / Roberto Di Matteo / Rafa Benitez / Mourinho carousel at Stamford Bridge, it can be difficult to find the right coach for such a big job. The horrid start will lead only to a humiliating end.

As for me, what I'm picking between is a pair of phrases, "The Empereror has no clothes" and "The king is dead, long live the king!" Are you throwing in the towel on Chelsea and its players like I am or are you buying in hopes of a resurgence?