How Chelsea will utilize Christopher Nkunku following the potential departure of Havertz could prove to be a turning point for Mauricio Pochettino
Chelsea confirmed the acquisition of Christopher Nkunku from RB Leipzig on Tuesday, and numerous supporters of the club will be optimistic that he can improve the team’s scoring record in the upcoming season.
The transfer was finalized after Chelsea reached a preliminary agreement with the 25-year-old in late 2020 and subsequently activated the £52 million release clause in his contract. With the deal now official, there is considerable anticipation to witness how the talented forward performs in the Premier League next season.
The Blues have acquired a new asset, but it remains uncertain how they will utilize him. Throughout his career, he has demonstrated versatility by playing in various attacking positions such as out wide, as a number 10, and most recently as a striker. This provides Chelsea with numerous possibilities.
However, they do have a variety of options in the attacking third with players such as Christian Pulisic, Noni Madueke, Raheem Sterling and Mykhailo Mudryk in their squad.
However, what they lack is a true number nine striker. This is believed to be a major reason why Chelsea struggled to score goals last season, as they only scored 38 goals, which was fewer than five other Premier League teams, despite having a decent expected goal (xG) total of 49.5. Kai Havertz was mainly used as their main attacker, but he did not perform consistently in that role. He is now set to join Arsenal, which means finding a new center-forward is a priority for Chelsea.
However, it has been difficult to secure a player like Villarreal’s Nicolas Jackson, as there has been no success in their pursuit so far.
Nkunku doesn’t solve the problem on paper. He initially made a breakthrough as a wide player at Paris Saint-Germain and continued to excel in deeper attacking positions after moving to Leipzig in 2019.
However, his role at Leipzig changed during the 2021/22 season when manager Domenico Tedesco started using him as a striker. This decision paid off as Nkunku scored 35 goals in all competitions and was named Bundesliga Player of the Season. When Marco Rose took over as manager in the 2022/23 season, he continued to utilize Nkunku in a similar way. At Red Bull Arena, Nkunku typically played as one of the two forwards.
However, Mauricio Pochettino, who is set to become Chelsea’s manager next month, prefers playing with only one center-forward. Since Chelsea currently lacks a standout candidate for that role and finding suitable deals is challenging, Nkunku could potentially be the player Pochettino relies on to lead the attack. Considering his impressive underlying statistics, this decision would make sense.
He suffered a ligament tear in his knee in November, which limited his appearances from November to April and affected his ability to score goals as effectively as he did in the previous season. Despite this, he still managed to have a strong season, taking the most shots in the Bundesliga for RB Leipzig (70) and scoring an impressive 23 goals with nine assists in all competitions.
In the last two seasons, primarily playing as a striker, his expected goals (xG) in the Bundesliga were 30.5, but he exceeded expectations by scoring 36 goals, resulting in an overperformance of 5.5. This demonstrates his efficiency in finishing. In comparison, Havertz, during his three seasons at Chelsea, has scored only 19 Premier League goals with an xG of 25.8, resulting in an underperformance of 6.8.
If Pochettino decides to use a formation with only one striker, Nkunku’s skills in dribbling, speed, and creating scoring opportunities for teammates make him a perfect choice to play a supporting role in that system. However, at Leipzig, he also showed that he can effectively lead an attack and score goals consistently.
Therefore, while the club looks for a more permanent solution, Nkunku’s main objective in the upcoming season at Chelsea might be to replicate his success.