Jackson is expected to go from Villarreal to Chelsea.
One of the most universal truths in sports is that defense wins championships. Even Pep Guardiola, who is intimately aware of the harm one defensive error can cause in 180 minutes of cup play, obsesses over minimizing risks when the Champions League song starts to play. However, nothing could be further from the reality in the Premier League. However, a hyper-powered offense is a requirement for an English champion, not a top-tier rearguard, in a title race.
Do you think you have what it takes to add 60 goals to this Chelsea team, Mauricio Pochettino? Arsenal improved dramatically from a club that scored 61 goals in 2021–22 to one that scored nearly 90 the following season. Numerous people and tactical strategies have been blamed for Liverpool’s reversal, but replacing the known quantity of Sadio Mane with the potential of Darwin Nunez and, in January, Cody Gakpo, resulted in over 20 less goals.
Finding a team that can match or exceed the 85 goals that Antonio Conte scored that season has been Chelsea’s greatest challenge almost from the moment the frenzied celebrations overflowed into the hallways of the Hawthorns Stadium when they were named champions in the spring of 2017. There was a feeling that they would not score enough goals over the course of 38 games to stay up with Manchester City or Liverpool, even after Thomas Tuchel built Europe’s most formidable defense. Since Tuchel left, there has been a sharp decline, with the Blues scoring exactly one goal per game—38—in 2022–23 as opposed to one goal per game in 2021–22.
Pochettino won’t have to use the same assault that under Graham Potter and Frank Lampard had become so stale. This week, Kai Havertz will complete his £65 million transfer to Arsenal. The front line of Roman Abramovich’s grandiose investment splurge in the midst of 2020’s COVID-19 bear market has been dismantled with Hakim Ziyech agreeing to a €15 million per year deal with Al Nassr. Chelsea’s intentions for this summer depend heavily on the addition of two new forwards.
Christopher Nkunku, a player with 36 goals and 21 assists in his last two Bundesliga seasons, feels like the safest gamble Chelsea could have made. The main issue with the trade is that it allowed them to get Raheem Sterling and Mykhailo Mudryk when they were vying for one of Europe’s most sought-after forwards who thrives in the inside left channel. Nkunku, however, could easily blend in as the advanced midfielder in Pochettino’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation.
The excitement remains ahead of him as Chelsea is expected to sign Nicolas Jackson from Villarreal this week. They have agreed on a cost that is reportedly just beyond his €35 million release clause so that Chelsea is not required to make a one-time payment. After passing his physical, the 22-year-old is likely to sign a long-term contract with Stamford Bridge. A player who had not scored a goal in the top league the previous season may finish the Blues’ summer striker search, which began with links to Victor Osimhen and Harry Kane.
That need not be a problem, and it is simple to believe Jackson will succeed in the Premier League after watching him score his first goal against Cadiz last month. Jackson blasted through one defender, beat the goalkeeper to the ball, and then displayed the poise to calmly sit down defenders and put the ball in the net. The Senegal international, who has been playing in front of the line for Villarreal this year, didn’t appear to have as much trouble becoming an outball as Havertz and Romelu Lukaku did while wearing a Chelsea jersey. Note how frequently he receives long balls into the channels for him to chase down in the passes received map below.
Although Pochettino’s team shouldn’t be hitting the big guy up top as regularly, having a muscular presence who can move around at the beginning of their assault undoubtedly helps. Jackson is still young enough that his new coaching staff might mold him into a variety of roles because of his versatility in playing wide or in a front two, as he occasionally did alongside Gerard Moreno.
Can he carry them out and score the goals Chelsea so sorely needs? It is really difficult to be certain given the evidence we have at our disposal. His head coaches are quite complimentary of him. Unai Emery mentioned a player who was still “growing” when he was at Villarreal at the beginning of the last campaign but whose “contribution is very high” already. That was demonstrated by his scoring surge toward the end of a season marred by injuries, but the sample size is still modest given his £30 million transfer, 1763 minutes of top-flight action, and only 16 starts. He may have scored 12 goals in all competitions in his second season, but those goals came from shots with a total anticipated goal value of 6.5. Even Erling Haaland doesn’t perform so well above his basic numbers.
It is at least ironic that a team that drastically underperformed their own xG last season would sign a player on a roll, but spending millions of dollars to test a statistical anomaly is not a good move. It is still very early in Jackson’s career to determine whether or not his recent xG overperformance is even remotely sustainable. The relative scarcity of shots he is averaging, though, stands out from his statistics. 2.3 points per 90 minutes, which ranks 58th in La Liga. The key trait shared by extremely elite attackers is not necessarily outperforming their xG but rather consistently finding themselves in a shooting position. Jackson’s ability to put up half as many efforts per game as some of the other strikers in the division is questionable given that he was a member of the squad that had the third-highest possession average in La Liga previous season.
From Chelsea’s perspective, there are many more facets of Jackson’s game that appear rather alluring. Take, for instance, his predicted assist return of 0.2 per 90 and the 1.5 chances he creates for teammates. These might be more significant in another situation, but Stamford Bridge needs a player who can score around 18 goals in a Premier League season. Since the fight between Diego Costa and Conte, they have not had that.
Jackson is someone who might do that, but expecting them to demands faith in sources other than the scant amount of statistics from the top league. Their new striker resembles what Chelsea would have you believe is the model acquisition of the Todd Boehly era in many ways: an exciting kid who will be bound to competitive salaries for the foreseeable future. Jackson may be representative of the post-Abramovich era, and they may be right. However, Jackson is similar to Mykhailo Mudryk and David Datro Fofana in that they are intriguing players with a ton of room for improvement, not necessarily prospects who fit the mold of elite athletes who will one day lead Chelsea to the pinnacles of the sport.