Nicolas Jackson could be the centre forward Chelsea have needed

Sport

It’s been a long time since Chelsea had a reliable goalscorer in the centre forward position. Diego Costa was the last number nine to truly settle in at Stamford Bridge with Romelu Lukaku, Alvaro Morata and Timo Werner all failing to make much of an impression in the time since. Nicolas Jackson is currently trying to buck the trend.

Signed for £35m from Villarreal in the summer transfer window, Jackson has been thrust into the Chelsea lineup because Mauricio Pochettino doesn’t have any better options. In ideal circumstances, the 22-year-old would be a developmental player for the Blues, but the learning curve has instead been a steep – and unforgiving – one.

Jackson has faced criticism. The Senegalese international is still very raw and has missed a number of opportunities in front of goal. However, Jackson deserves more credit for the generally positive start he has made in the Premier League where he has seven goals and one assist in 13 appearances.

Only seven players (Erling Haaland, Mohamed Salah, Son Heung-min, Jarrod Bowen, Ollie Watkins, Dominic Solanke and Hwang Hee-chan) have scored more goals in the Premier League this season than Jackson. His troubles in front of goal have been overstated. He is starting to fulfil the potential that prompted Chelsea to sign him in the first place.

Some might argue Jackson should still be scoring more often considering the number of chances Chelsea have created this season. Indeed, only Manchester City have generated more ‘big chances,’ as they are recorded, than Pochettino’s team. Creativity hasn’t been a problem for the Blues even as they have struggled for positive results.

In terms of big chances missed, though, Haaland, Darwin Nunez and Watkins have all fluffed their lines more times than Jackson this season, so it’s unfair to say he is the root of Chelsea’s troubles in front of goal. His underlying numbers suggest he is on pace with expectations for the campaign so far – and he should continue to improve.

“The Premier League is different to La Liga where I am trying to adapt,” said Jackson when asked to assess his start at Chelsea. “It is not an excuse. I am trying to work harder and listen to people.

“Not the people who do not know football, I listen to the coach and try to improve myself. He knows football, he has been with a lot of young players, so he motivates me every day.

“He has seen people worse than me and they are now big players. Kevin De Bruyne was here and Mo Salah was here and now they are big players. They struggled here but they didn’t listen to people who don’t know football and now they are big players – he keeps telling me that. He just tells me to not listen to people who do not know football. All the people that talk s**t, they don’t know football, so I don’t listen to them.”

Pochettino’s Chelsea remain a work-in-progress. They have struggled with inconsistency over the course of the season, impressing in matches against Brighton and Manchester City, but falling flat in games against Everton and Manchester United. The circumstances at Stamford Bridge have been difficult for everyone in Pochettino’s squad.

Chelsea fans are entitled to want more from Jackson, but he has acclimatised relatively quickly for a young player still getting used to life at a new club in a new league in a new country. Pochettino must continue developing Jackson to lift him to the elite level. The Senegalese international could be the centre forward Chelsea have needed for years.

Author: Mark Hayes