Christopher Nkunku: The striker Chelsea hope can breathe life into their attack

2PWA3HW Leipzig's Christopher Nkunku celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the German Bundesliga soccer match between RB Leipzig and TSG 1899 Hoffenheim in Leipzig, Germany, Saturday, April 29, 2023.(Jan Woitas/dpa via AP)

Christopher Nkunku could be forgiven for being nervous about the situation he will be joining when he completes his move to Chelsea from RB Leipzig in July.

In new owner Todd Boehly’s first season since he led a consortium which took control of the club last May, Chelsea consistently fell below expectations, sacking both Thomas Tuchel and Graham Potter on their way to 12th placed finish in the Premier League and no European football to look forward to in the next campaign.

Chelsea’s poor season is reflected in the fact that they are one of only four teams not to feature a single player in the recently announced PFF Top 50 players of the 2022-2023 Premier League season.

Chelsea fans will be hoping the new era under recently appointed head coach Mauricio Pochettino will quickly put last season’s debacle in the rear-view mirror, and the anticipation of Nkunku’s arrival certainly helps with providing some optimism ahead of the return of the Premier League in August.

Nkunku has been exceptional in the past two Bundesliga seasons for Leipzig. Despite suffering injuries in the past year, which saw him miss time in the league as well as drop out of the France squad on the eve of the 2022 World Cup, Nkunku was still able to finish the season as the joint top-scorer in the Bundesliga with 16 goals from 25 games.

The year before he was equally prolific with 20 league goals from 34 games which was good for fourth best in the Bundesliga. Two of those who finished ahead of him in that season — Robert Lewandowski and Erling Haaland — have gone on to win the golden boot in La Liga and the Premier League this season after their transfers to Barcelona and Manchester City.

The below table illustrates how impressive Nkunku has been for Leipzig the last two years with his PFF grades for attacking facets and how he ranked against all others in the Bundesliga.

Facet Season PFF Grade Overall Rank Position Rank
Shooting 21-22 97.9 1 1
22-23 77.1 38 19
Dribbling 21-22 90.3 1 1
22-23 83.7 6 1
Passing 21-22 90.9 2 1
22-23 80.8 25 1
Crossing 21-22 78.5 23 2
22-23 65.6 109 15

Nkunku’s PFF grades illustrate just how good he was during the 2021-2022 season. In the league, he returned the best PFF shooting grade (97.9) and PFF dribbling grade (90.3) of any player, as well the second best PFF passing grade (90.9) regardless of position. He also impressed with his delivery from out wide with the second best PFF crossing grade of any striker in the Bundesliga that season (78.5).

As well as his 20 goals, he also finished second overall in assists with 14 in 2021-2022. It came as no surprise then when he was awarded the Bundesliga player of the season, ahead of Bayern's Lewandowski and Dortmund's Haaland, having also won the player of the month award a record four times that campaign.

With injuries to contend with this season, it would have been almost impossible to repeat that level of dominance. However, despite a drop off in his PFF grades he has still had an excellent season by anyone’s standards. His PFF dribble grade remains near the top, ranking sixth overall, and he retained the best PFF grade of any striker.

His PFF shooting grade drops off the most where this season has seen him pick up a handful of individual event shooting grades of -2 and -1.5, where he had none of these in 2021-2022.

Christopher Nkunku will play for Chelsea next season in the Premier League
2PPX0B3 Leverkusen, Bayarena 23.04.23: Mika Volkmann / Alamy

Nkunku signed off his Leipzig career in style with a player of the match performance in both the final league game with two goals and an assist against Schalke and then in the 2-0 win over Frankfurt with a goal and assist in the DFB Pokal final.

He joins a Chelsea team that had real difficulty in scoring goals last season, managing just 38 in the Premier League — only four teams managed fewer (Wolves, Bournemouth, Everton, and Southampton).

If we look at the PFF grades for the passing, shooting, and dribbling for Chelsea’s attackers from last season, we can see how much of an immediate improvement Nkunku provides to their attack as we compare to his grades from the past two seasons.

Player PFF Passing Grade PFF Shooting Grade PFF Dribbling Grade
Raheem Sterling 76.8 80.8 75.9
Kai Havertz 86.2 76.1 77.8
Joao Felix 67.7 78.5 75.2
Noni Madueke 70.3 64.2 70.1
Christian Pulisic 63.7 74.3 71.5
Mykhaylo Mudryk 67.8 59.1 68.1
Hakim Ziyech 65.1 55.1 64.7
Mason Mount 70.5 72.2 69.3

It could be the case that more than half of the players in the above list are not on the team come August. The team's top scorer with seven goals in the league, Kai Havertz, has been linked with a move to Real Madrid this summer to replace Karim Benzema.

Joao Felix has returned to Atletico Madrid from his loan and it looks unlikely that Pochettino will trigger the clause that would bring him back to Stamford Bridge on a permanent basis.

Mason Mount has been heavily linked with Manchester United in the past few weeks and it looks increasingly likely that both Hakim Ziyech and Christian Pulisic will leave during the transfer window. There is also the uncertainty of the future of Romelu Lukaku who will be due to return to Chelsea from his loan spell with Inter Milan.

There will almost certainly be a lot of movement both in and out of Chelsea over the summer, but Nkunku could well be the best signing they make if he can continue the form that has made him one of the best players in Europe over the last two years.

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