When Chloe Kelly signed for Manchester City in 2020, her arrival was perhaps slightly overlooked amidst the raft of signings from the NWSL.
The striker’s move from Everton came at a time when City were attracting some of the biggest names in the world. Whilst the noise around the American players was rightly deserved, Kelly has also made her mark on the club. The No.9 had a huge impact on the Sky Blues both domestically and internationally before being sidelined with an ACL injury.
So does Kelly deserve more credit than she is given?Embed from Getty Images
Kelly is undoubtedly an exciting player to watch. Her ability to spot a pass in the attacking third demonstrates her movement without the ball and ability to follow the run of play. Playing on the wing, the No.9 can cut into the central zone, providing opportunities for both herself and her teammates to find the back of the net.
City are a team who base their style of play around having large shares of possession. As a player, Kelly’s game is perfectly suited to this system. Her directness allows quick transitions between attacking and defensive play. Her positional awareness, along with her speed and strength, allows her to have a huge impact in counter-attacks.
Kelly’s style of play also allows her to adapt her approach depending on her opponent. With City playing such high possession football, it can be tempting for teams to play defensively. Kelly’s intelligence means she will frequently allow herself to drop back between the midfield and defence. Her ability to stretch her opponent’s back line has the benefit of creating more space for her team when dealing with a high press. As defenders attempt to mark the forward they are forced out of position, leaving space in the defensive lines.
By causing defensive errors, the forward is able to increase the chance of her opposition making a mistake that leads to a goal.Embed from Getty Images
Kelly’s absence has undoubtedly had a huge impact on her team. With the No.9 sidelined, Gareth Taylor has frequently played youngster Jess Park in her position. Whilst Park’s style of play is not identical to that of Chloe Kelly, she has proven herself a vital player for the Blues this season. So would Kelly have the same impact this season as we saw in the 20/21 campaign?
Whilst it is possible to compare key statistics from the two players, it is important to note several issues. The first is that Park is now playing in a very different Manchester City side from last season. Injuries and departures have forced tactical and positional changes that inevitably impact performances.
The two players may play in the same position, however their style and impact are not identical. Park has also played fewer minutes than Kelly, which can impact statistics.
In the radar above you see key attacking metrics of Kelly and Park compared against each other.
To compare the two players we will focus on 3 defining metrics for an attacking player in the WSL.
The first of these is shots taken in game. Park is typically regarded as a creative rather than scoring player and this is evident in her stats. Per 90 minutes played in all domestic competitions, Park has 1.92 shots. From these shots, the No.16 has an expected goal tally of 0.29 non-penalty goals per 90. This is significantly less than Kelly whose shots per 90 in the 2020/21 season was 2.67.
From this Kelly would be expected to score 0.5 goals per 90 minutes played.
Once again Kelly’s prowess in front of goal is evident. Whilst the No.9 has an xG of 0.47 she actually scores 0.5 goals per 90 minutes. This shows us that the forward is over-performing according to her xG. In domestic competitions in 2020/21, Chloe Kelly found the back of the net 10 times. It is once again obvious that Park is a player more suited to providing assists. The 20 year-old has scored 0.14 goals per 90 minutes, under-performing against her xG of 0.29 non-penalty goals.Embed from Getty Images
This area of play is where Park’s assets truly stand out. The youngster enjoys more progressive runs and touches in the box per 90 minutes played. Whilst Park has played fewer minutes than Kelly which can impact figures, it is clear this is where the No.16 truly excels. Creating key passes into the box, Park provides clear opportunities for her teammates.
Dribbles, including take-ons and 1v1’s, are another metric of how comfortable a player is carrying the ball into attacking areas. In the 2020/21 season Kelly attempted 98 dribbles in the league. By comparison, Park attempted 23 dribbles although the winger had significantly less game time.
The absence of Chloe Kelly evidently has impacted her team. The Sky Blues have scored fewer goals and are creating fewer chances per game. The news of the striker’s new contract will provide welcome security for City. The forward recently committed her future to the club until 2025. It is inevitable that Kelly’s return will have a positive impact on a side that have struggled creatively in front of goal this season. Whilst City possess a strong squad, the No.9 brings qualities that are rare to find in a forward. Her play style has a selfless quality to it, passing the ball to teammates who may be in a better position rather than taking the shot on herself.
Special thanks to Her Football Hub editor and Lead Data Scout Marc Lamberts for his contribution towards this article.