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Scouting Report: Gonzalo Higuain Joins Chelsea from Juventus

The winter transfer period had been slow, but got a much needed jolt with the news of Gonzalo Higuain’s loan to Chelsea from Juventus via AC Milan. Can the Argentinian striker be the true Blue goal-scoring forward that the London club so desperately needs?

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Gonzalo Higuain - Chelsea - Premier League
Gonzalo Higuain has scored prolifically everywhere he has gone... until AC Milan. Will he return to form now at Chelsea under former manager Maurizio Sarri?
Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

Chelsea has enjoyed tremendous success this century and, along with it, a revered place in the world footballing landscape. But the Premier League can be unforgiving at times, particularly when major missteps occur.

Despite boasting a dazzling global superstar in Eden Hazard, and endeavoring with plenty of ambitious spending to bring in big-name players, the past two seasons have been a monumental letdown for the Blues. Now Chelsea makes the biggest splash of this winter transfer window by bringing over star striker Gonzalo Higuain from Juventus (loaned to AC Milan in the first half, he will now be loaned to Chelsea). Apparently following the short-term loan the rest of this season, there is a €36.0m option to buy in the summer, or alternately a one-season loan extension. (Click here to read the reported contractual information from

Can Chelsea now right its course with Higuaín leading the Blues’ line? Will the London outfit secure Champions League competition for next season and get back to the business of challenging for major trophies in the near future, or is more disappointment instead ahead?



Diego Costa - Chelsea - Premier League
Chelsea fans fondly remember the glory days not so long ago when Diego Costa was the star striker.
Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

There are several reasons that may be given to explain the recent lack of success, but the top one has to be the lack of a quality striker. Following capture of the 2016-17 Premier League title, Antonio Conte inexplicably feuded with star forward Diego Costa over the summer. That led to the departures of both Costa (a delayed move to Atletico Madrid in January 2018) and Conte (sacked in June 2018) as the team suffered a fifth-place finish in 2017-18.

Following notice that Costa was surplus to Conte’s designs, Chelsea welcomed the big-money signing of Alvaro Morata from Real Madrid in the summer of 2017 as Costa’s replacement, but Morata has gone bust in the Premiership. Not only that, but winter 2018 transfer Olivier Giroud, signed at a comparative discount from Arsenal, has failed to make an impact as well.

Just how bad have things been at the striker spot? First, let’s compare the Chelsea production of Costa to that of Morata and the lightly-used Giroud:

Costa v. Morata and Giroud at Chelsea

Diego Costa 2014/15 - 2016/17 89 52 0.58 16 0.18
Alvaro Morata 2017/18 & 2018/19 47 16 0.34 6 0.13
Olivier Giroud 2017/18 & 2018/19 31 4 0.13 5 0.16

Individually, there has been a monumental drop-off from Costa to Morata as the primary forward. But even if you put both Morata and Giroud together, there is still a significant decline in goal scoring.

Costa twice scored 20 goals in his three EPL seasons (with 12 in the other campaign when he played only 28 games). Meanwhile, Morata managed only 11 goals in his one full season at Chelsea, and is currently on pace for even fewer scores in 2018-19.

It certainly helps for a club to boast a 25-, 20- or even 15-goal striker, but it’s not always absolutely necessary for team success. Has the falloff from Costa to Morata and Giroud indeed had a noticeable negative impact on the club’s offense overall? Or have Chelsea’s other players been able to compensate for the lack of finishing at forward?

Chelsea w/ Costa v. Chelsea w/ Morata & Giroud

2014/15 - 2016/17 114 217 1.9
2017/18 & 2018/19 61 102 1.67

In Costa’s three seasons with Chelsea, the Blues averaged 1.90 goals per game. In 2017-18 and 2018-19 with Morata as the main line-leader, the team output has fallen to 1.67 gpg. Perhaps a 0.23 gpg gap may not seem like much, but in a 38 game season that would translate to nine goals. That’s a lot! It could easily prove the difference between making and missing out on Champions League, or between challenging for the Prem title and coming nowhere near. Other players have surely tried their best to step up and provide scoring, but they’ve been unable to make up for the lack of goals from Morata when compared to the quality of Costa in that crucial area.

The change from Costa to Morata has proven an absolute disaster not just on the pitch, but also when taking Morata’s price tag into account. His transfer fee was €66.0m, significantly dearer than the €42.0m that Liverpool paid for Mo Salah in the same summer, and also more than the €63.8m that Arsenal shelled out for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the subsequent winter window. To be fair, Chelsea wasn’t the only team to overspend for a forward that season, as Manchester United dropped an astronomical €84.7m for Romelu Lukaku, whose subsequent production has not lived up to expectations.

Even for a club with the financial resources of Chelsea, there is only so much cash to splash, and a limit to the number of chances taken on a new forward, since they tend to be so expensive relative to other positions. Making a move in one transfer window that turns out poorly does not always mean that a quick replacement can easily be found in the next. After all, it has been a year and a half since Morata was brought over, and a year since Giroud’s transfer in.

Last summer, with the departure of world class keeper Thibaut Courtois, the team prioritized his replacement, spending heavily to get Kepa Arrizabalaga (€80.0m). Otherwise, Chelsea focused on defensive midfield, adding Jorginho (€57.0m) and Mateo Kovacic (loan from Real Madrid as part of the Courtois deal). That left the cupboard bare — at least for the time being — when it came to striker.

Speaking of Salah and Aubameyang, let’s also look outside Chelsea at each of the EPL’s other “Big Six” clubs, comparing the performance of #1 strikers this season.

Big Six #1 Strikers, 2018-19

Mohamed Salah Liverpool 23 16 0.7 7 0.3
Harry Kane Tottenham 22 14 0.64 4 0.18
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang Arsenal 23 14 0.61 3 0.13
Sergio Aguero Man. City 19 10 0.53 6 0.32
Marcus Rashford Man. United 20 8 0.4 6 0.3
Alvaro Morata Chelsea 16 5 0.31 0 0

It’s indeed a severe drop-off going from the other top teams’ #1 forward to Morata at Chelsea. And Giroud adds just 1 goal and 4 assists in 18 games this season. Even when combining Morata and Giroud, their 6 goals and 4 assists together through the first 23 games still falls well short of every other top team’s singular #1.

Now let’s go even further and compare Morata and Giroud to the other teams’ striker duos: Salah and Roberto Firmino at Liverpool, Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette at Arsenal, Rashford and Romelu Lukaku at Manchester United, and Aguero and Gabriel Jesus at Manchester City.

Big Six Teams’ Top Two Strikers, 2018-19

M. Salah & R. Firmino Liverpool 23 1 10 0.43
P. Aubameyang & A. Lacazette Arsenal 22 0.96 8 0.35
M. Rashford & R. Lukaku Man. United 16 0.7 6 0.26
S. Aguero & G. Jesus Man. City 15 0.65 8 0.35
H. Kane & F. Llorente Tottenham 14 0.61 4 0.17
A. Morata & O. Giroud Chelsea 6 0.26 4 0.17

Taking the two together, the difference in production at the position is even more glaring. Kane has no true forward strike partner, of course, but even including Fernando Llorente who has contributed nothing, Tottenham’s one-sided pairing of 14 goals still towers over Morata and Giroud’s mere total of 6. (Note: I am not including attacking/wing midfielders such as Raheem Sterling, Anthony Martial, Lucas Moura, Son Heung-min or Eden Hazard, but just imagine the numbers for Kane and Son rather than Kane and Llorente...)

Putting all of those unflattering comparisons together, Chelsea is simply haunted by the apparition of Diego Costa, absolutely desperate for a major upgrade at forward.



So Chelsea wants a true goal scoring center forward, right? In every season where he has played 20+ games since 2008-09, Higuain has scored 15+ goals. Five of those tallied 20+, with two 25+. You’re not going to confuse him with Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi, but 224 goals in 382 games across La Liga and Serie A, that’s extremely impressive!

Higuain in La Liga and Serie A by Season

2006-07 Real Madrid La Liga 19 2 0.11 3 0.16
2007-08 Real Madrid La Liga 25 8 0.32 3 0.12
2008-09 Real Madrid La Liga 34 22 0.65 12 0.35
2009-10 Real Madrid La Liga 32 27 0.84 7 0.22
2010-11 Real Madrid La Liga 17 10 0.59 6 0.35
2011-12 Real Madrid La Liga 35 22 0.63 9 0.26
2012-13 Real Madrid La Liga 28 16 0.57 5 0.18
2013-14 Napoli Serie A 32 17 0.53 7 0.22
2014-15 Napoli Serie A 37 18 0.49 7 0.19
2015-16 Napoli Serie A 35 36 1.03 2 0.06
2016-17 Juventus Serie A 38 24 0.63 3 0.08
2017-18 Juventus Serie A 35 16 0.46 7 0.44
2018-19 AC Milan Serie A 15 6 0.4 1 0.07
ALL SEAS. ALL TEAMS ALL LG. 382 224 0.59 72 0.19

On top of that, Higuain is a proven Champions League performer as well, with 23 goals and 10 assists in 75 games, including 14 goals and 4 assists in 27 games covering his most recent three competitions (2013-14 with Napoli, and 2016-17 & 2017-18 with Juventus). Chelsea will be counting on Higuain not only to help Chelsea secure a Champions League spot for next season, but then for his high-level experience to aid their quest in the competition itself.



Perhaps more than a bit worryingly, though, Higuain’s goal scoring rate has declined in each of the past three seasons, all the way down to 0.40 goals per game so far this campaign, his lowest since 2007-08 when he still had yet to establish himself with Real Madrid. Also, of course, his output of 6 goals in 15 games this season isn’t really much better than Morata’s 5 goals in 16 games, is it?

Yes, Higuain has a proven track record, but could it be that he is slowing down with age (he is 31), after so many highly productive seasons and the wear and tear that comes along with them? Or instead could it just be that the AC Milan and Juventus offenses pale in comparison to those of Napoli and Real Madrid?

When Chelsea bought Morata, the hope was that he would become the team’s star striker for the next five years or even longer. After all, Morata was only 24 years old at the time. Unfortunately, his lack of impact and development put Chelsea in an understandable position where the team chose to bring in a seasoned, proven veteran. But is Higuain too old? Did Chelsea go too far in the other direction, age-wise?

Let’s compare three different periods, each covering three seasons — 2010-11 through 2012-13 with Real Madrid, 2013-14 through 2015-16 with Napoli, and 2016-17 through 2018-19 with Juventus and AC Milan. Has Higuain’s influence waned recently? Or is it instead more the case that the Juventus and AC Milan attacks don’t boast anything close to the firepower of the Real Madrid and Napoli offenses?

Higuain Scoring Rate & Team Share by Period, 2010/11 - 2018/19

2010/11 - 2012/13 Real Madrid La Liga 80 48 0.6 114 326 2.86 0.21
2013/14 - 2015/16 Napoli Serie A 104 71 0.68 114 227 1.99 0.34
2016/17 - 2018/19 Juventus & AC Milan Serie A 88 46 0.52 96 191 1.99 0.26

Higuain’s impact with Napoli was extraordinary, as the team scored fewer goals per game (1.99) than Real Madrid (2.86), but his personal goals per game actually increased from 0.60 to 0.68. Juventus and AC Milan together have scored at the same clip as Napoli (1.99), but even while Higuain’s personal rate has declined from 0.68 to 0.52, his adjusted share of team scoring (the ratio of personal goals per game to the teams’ rate of goals per game, attempting to take games missed at least somewhat into account) is actually higher in the past three seasons with Juve and AC Milan (0.26) than it was during his final three campaigns with Real Madrid (0.21).

The problem this season would seem to come more from AC Milan as a team than Higuain himself. Higuain has scored just six goals, but the entire team has managed only 28 (just 1.4 gpg), tying for 9th most in Serie A. In pure share, Higuain has been responsible for scoring 21% of AC Milan’s goals this season, which is exactly the same adjusted rate he provided in his final three seasons with Real Madrid. It’s just that AC Milan (or Napoli or Juventus, for that matter) is not Real Madrid. Looking again at Morata this season, his 5 goals represent only 13% of Chelsea’s total this season (40), a far cry from Higuain’s 21% component for AC Milan even though Higuain has scored only one more goal than Morata.

Specifically, the lack of world class talent and resultant inexplosive nature of AC Milan’s offense, rather than any ineffectiveness from Higuain, looks to be to blame for his low output this season. If you are not a Serie A aficionado and can name a single offensive player remaining on AC Milan following Higuain’s departure, you deserve a biscotto! Assuming nobody comes to mind, look at the less-than-impressive roster and then check out the paltry individual goal scoring marks.

Father time will catch up with Higuain eventually, but not yet. If he is surrounded by a mix of great and very good offensive players — and he will be at Chelsea, unlike at AC Milan — Higuain should still be able to produce at a quality rate.



Higuain thrived as the #1 option for Napoli in 2014-15 and 2015-16 as well as at Juventus in 2016-17, but more often has been the second or even third banana up front. With the Argentina national team, Higuain and Sergio Aguero have toiled in the enormous shadow of Lionel Messi. At Real Madrid, Cristiano Ronaldo took the limelight ahead of Higuaín and Karim Benzema. At Juventus, Paulo Dybala was the big scorer in 2017-18. Even in Higuain’s first season at Napoli, he shared top billing with Jose Callejon. At each step of the way, Higuain has performed extremely ably in concert with other stars.

At Chelsea, Higuain will be the undisputed top striker, but Eden Hazard will remain the club’s best and most influential player. Higuain has proven that he has no problem working well in such a scenario, that he can in fact thrive. Perhaps even more importantly, Sarri and Higuain worked together at Napoli in the striker’s eye-popping 2015-16 campaign when the Argentine scored a career-best 36 times in league play (matching the Serie A record), so the comfortable, familiar manager-player relationship should be advantageous in this reunion.

Higuain may fall short of the superstar level, but is certainly a star, featuring all of the tools you could ask for in a striker. He displays the class and composure to take the extra touch when required, but vitally employs quick-strike capability when necessary. He punishes defenses in a variety of ways, whether being in the right place at the right time and pouncing on a rebound, finding separation and scoring off a teammate’s pass, or dribbling and finishing himself.

What stands out as Higuaín's most elite skill is a lethal, laser-like lash with his right foot from around the edge of the 18-yard box that leaves goalkeepers helpless, while he also exhibits excellent touch when he needs to take a deft, light shave on the ball. His left foot is quite good as well, and he will occasionally score with his head although that is certainly not his weapon of choice. Scanning above to his assist statistics, Higuain is also very adept at selflessly finding a teammate with a better chance at scoring.

Take a look at his goal scoring highlights at Juventus in 2016-17 & 2017-18, and you can pretty much expect more of the same at Chelsea:



First and foremost, the question on many fantasy managers’ minds will be, “How will he impact Eden Hazard’s fantasy production?” Sarri has frequently deployed Hazard in the “false 9” role without a true striker on the pitch, but now the Belgian superstar will be allowed to return to his preferred role on the left wing where he can create havoc as nature so beautifully intended.

Otherwise, the ideal scenario in my opinion would be for Higuain’s presence to influence Sarri to finally abandon his bizarre obsession with simultaneously starting three players whose best position is defensive midfielder — N’Golo Kante, Mateo Kovacic, and Jorginho — which underutilizes the world-class defensive talents of Kante while also wasting a vital fourth offensive spot on someone ill-suited to take advantage. That could mean a high-powered quartet of Higuain, Hazard, Pedro and Willian. However, weaving three natural wing attackers together could prove problematic, so someone like Ruben Loftus-Cheek or Ross Barkley could replace either Willian or Pedro in a more central role behind Higuaín.

Unfortunately, such a change in formation likely looks to be wishful thinking, as Sarri seems stubbornly tied to his three defensive midfielder approach. It may take an injury or suspension to one of Kante, Kovacic or Jorginho for Sarri to abandon his ineffective line-up and instead utilize a player with an appropriate skill set as his fourth offensive option.

Whoever among Pedro or Willian prevails as a regular starter at right wing should enjoy prosperity, as defenses will certainly focus much more attention on Higuain than they did on Morata or Giroud. With Higuaín expected to be a significant upgrade over Morata and Giroud, he will help not only the goal scoring prospects of the players around him, but he should also boost assist totals of those providing service. That will be a boon not only to the midfielders, but also to defenders Marcos Alonso and Cesar Azpilicueta who are outstanding crossers from the wing, as well as David Luiz who delivers a wonderful long ball from central defense.

Rumors have Morata headed to Atletico Madrid in the January window. But if that deal falls through and the Spaniard remains with Chelsea, Morata can take on the super-sub role with the Blues that he played so well with Real Madrid, and maybe he can learn something from the older veteran in the process. Then this summer, Chelsea would likely ship him to another suitor to recoup some of the transfer fee paid in 2017. Olivier Giroud will also remain a strong sub option when his style (hold-up play and an eye for a header goal) is judged more appropriate than Morata’s more languid interplay.



Eden Hazard has been Chelsea’s primary penalty taker in recent seasons, and that designation (along with his success converting them) has been an important part of his fantasy value. He has made 16 of 18 in his Premier League career, including three of three this season.

The fact that Diego Costa was able to score so many goals without taking many pens — he was 1 for 2 in his EPL career — made him even more valuable. Will Higuain take penalty kick duty away from Hazard, or will he have to make due without as Costa did?

Higuain has successfully converted only 12 of 18 penalties in Serie A, and is 3 for 4 in La Liga. Combining the two leagues, Higuain is 15 for 22 (68%), which is a far cry from Hazard’s impeccable EPL success rate (89%). Thus, fantasy managers holding Hazard can breathe a sigh of relief that Higuain is so poor from the spot, as Hazard should assuredly retain the #1 PK designation.

Given that penalties have not been a vital component of Higuain’s goal scoring for most of his career, being only the #2 or #3 PK option (with Jorginho also in the mix) should not hurt the newcomer’s mind-set or impact his proficiency when it comes to scoring from open play or via other set pieces.



Chelsea fans will hope for not only a short-term boost from Higuain with respect to Hazard, but more importantly a longer-term benefit as well. The rumor mill in recent seasons has constantly surrounded a possible move by the Belgian superstar to Real Madrid or elsewhere. The hope for keeping Hazard in London will center around Chelsea finishing in the top four (or winning Europa League) and securing Champions League qualification for next season, which of course will depend greatly on how joyous and productive the partnership between Higuain and Hazard proliferates.

As mentioned, Chelsea is bringing Higuaín over on loan from Juventus the rest of this season, but will be obliged to extend the loan to next season as well if certain performance marks are reached, or they can otherwise buy him outright if so desired. If Hazard were to depart in the summer, his compensatory transfer fee would unquestionably be astronomical. Chelsea may choose to turn around and use a good portion of that money on a younger striker — but not too young, rather in his prime — with an eye to filling the position long term. In that case, retaining Higuaín would not only provide an attractive insurance policy at the forward position, it would offer an intruiguing opportunity to change to a two-striker formation regularly or utilize it periodically as the situation dictates.



Fantasy managers will certainly want to take his likely lack of penalty kick duty into consideration when comparing Higuain to other pricey attackers who are expert PK finishers such as Sergio Aguero, Harry Kane, Mohamed Salah, et al. But with Salah being by far the most expensive player in Official FPL fantasy (currently £13.5m), Kane out crocked, and Aguero prone to rotation and injury, Higuain does make for an attractive forward prospect.

However, much depends on his entry price. The main comparison is to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who costs £11.3m right now. PEA is the #1 striker in the game with 136 points, so you’ll need to feel you’re getting somewhat comparable production by Higuaín to Aubameyang at a discount to justify his purchase. [PEA has made only one league penalty this season (in one try), and with Arsenal having taken only two pens this campaign (Aaron Ramsey missed the other), it is unclear who the primary option is, with Alexander Lacazette (two for two last season) a possibility.]

Higuain will likely arrive at around £10.5m, which is something of a discount compared to Aubameyang’s price tag, but not major. £10.0m would be more attractive, while £11.0m or more would be quite cautionary. Even at £10.0m though, you may want to wait and see how rapidly Higuain adapts to a new league. There are several cheaper players who might be able to provide similar production — such as Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino (£9.3m), Leicester’s Jamie Vardy (£8.9m), Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford (£7.5m) or even Bournemouth’s Callum Wilson (£6.5m) — so going up to the premium level for Higuain could prove a risky proposition.

Of course, there is also a three-player limit per team in Official FPL. If you already have a trio from among the well-owned likes of Alonso (35% ownership), Hazard (34%), Kante (19%), Luiz (14%), or anyone else on Chelsea, it may not be worth having to make two transfers to add Higuaín in, since it is not as simple as making a striker-for-striker swap.

In Fantrax, Higuain will start at the NMA default $7.00 in both of our leagues. Even more critically, if his first appearance is unproductive (e.g. a cameo while settling in), Fantrax’s bizarre salary calculations could dump him to $1, which would be a screaming buy! So you will want to go ahead and fit him in immediately to your Fantrax teams unless you have a wealth of high-quality heavy discounts at the forward position. Then watch his salary like a hawk in case it needs a refresh.

Chelsea’s schedule in the Premier League over the next 10 games features a balanced mix of tough and easy competition: at Bournemouth, v. Huddersfield, at Manchester City, v. Brighton, v. Tottenham, at Fulham, v. Wolverhampton, at Everton, at Cardiff, v. West Ham. Strength of schedule does not make Higuain stand out, but neither does it take away from his appeal. The Blues also have Carabao Cup, FA Cup, and Europa League games in the offing, so Higuaín could be subject to rest in some EPL fixtures, but the hope is that CL qualification via league position will be Sarri’s top priority.

There is another important comparison involving Aubameyang: PEA was last year’s star January transfer, coming on like gangbusters for Arsenal by scoring 10 goals and adding 4 assists in only 13 games. That translated into marvelous fantasy production with 87 points in FPL (6.7 ppg) and 166 points (12.8 ppg) in Fantrax, where he cost £10.5m and $7.00, respectively, proving to be an absolute steal. It would be unrealistic to expect quite the same level of production from Higuain that PEA delivered, but it shouldn't be too far from it, perhaps something more on the order of around 5 ppg in FPL and 10 ppg in Fantrax.

Ultimately, making the most important comparison for Chelsea fans, Higuain should be expected to perform at a similar clip to Diego Costa, which would surely leave both Blues’ supporters and nonpartisan fantasy managers both happy.

(Note: Statistics and historical transfer prices used in this article came via the Premier League’s official website, the official fantasy Premier League and Fantrax sites, and


What do you think of Gonzalo Higuain coming to Chelsea? Will he deliver the Blues a top four EPL finish? Is he part of your immediate fantasy plans, or are you taking a wait-and-see approach? Take the poll below and share your thoughts in the comments!



Are you going to add Gonzalo Higuain to your fantasy team?

This poll is closed

  • 42%
    Absolutely, right away!
    (23 votes)
  • 16%
    No thanks, staying away!
    (9 votes)
  • 40%
    On the fence, will wait and see...
    (22 votes)
54 votes total Vote Now