Nicolas Jackson has the potential to thrive at Chelsea


It took Nicolas Jackson just 12 minutes for the Senegalese striker to showcase his ability in Chelsea’s 1-1 pre-season draw against Newcastle United. The Blues spent €35m to sign Jackson from Villarreal with most expectant he would be a development player for Mauricio Pochettino, but the early signs point to the 22-year-old being more important than that.

Chelsea have lacked a centre forward in Jackson’s mould for a number of seasons. The way he scored the pre-season goal against Newcastle demonstrated what the youngster could offer Pochettino with Jackson waiting on the shoulder of the last defender for a pass through. Once one-on-one, he finished calmly.

Last season, Thomas Tuchel, Graham Potter and Frank Lampard experimented with several different options in the number nine position. Kai Havertz was used there, but struggled to show cutting edge in front of goal. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang also played as a centre forward, but lacked mobility to press and offer anything out of possession.

Both Aubameyang and Havertz have departed Stamford Bridge this summer. Chelsea have been ruthless in clearing the decks to give new manager Pochettino the best possible chance of moulding a team in his own image and there have been encouraging signs from the performances produced in pre-season.

Christopher Nkunku has impressed, most recently scoring in a 2-0 win over Fulham. The French international’s all-round game gives Chelsea a hub to build around in the attacking third with Nkunku already demonstrating signs of an understanding with the likes of Enzo Fernandez and Ben Chilwell. He has slotted in well.

Jackson, however, is a different sort of attacker. His game is geared towards getting him in behind opposition defences and finding the back of the net. Nkunku, on the other hand, wants to do most of his work in front of the opposition backline. It’s possible Pochettino could play the pair in the same team, but if it’s a case of one or the other Jackson might make more sense at this time.

“This type of game is important to him to feel what it means to play in the Premier League,” said after Jackson’s goal-scoring performance against Fulham. “I think when Chelsea sign a player like him it’s because they detect something important in quality and talent. He is a big talent, he needs time to adapt to the new club, the Premier League. He is young also, we need to help him to develop and evolve and be an important player for Chelsea.”

Chelsea open their 2023/24 Premier League campaign with a home fixture against Liverpool and it’s not yet clear which player Pochettino will start as his centre forward, but Jackson’s pre-season displays have made him a feasible option, particularly against the high defensive line favoured by Jurgen Klopp. He could do damage against Liverpool.

Some still predict Chelsea will enter the transfer market for another more experienced centre forward before the window closes. Recent speculation has hinted at a swap deal between the Blues and Juventus which would see Romelu Lukaku head to Turin and Dusan Vlahovic make a switch to the Premier League.

If Chelsea signed Jackson to be their centre forward of the future, though, he is already on track to fulfil that potential. The Senegalese scored 12 goals in 26 games (only 12 of them starts) for Villarreal in La Liga last season and there’s good reason to believe he can get close to matching that tally for his new team this season. Chelsea might have finally found a striker equipped to thrive at Stamford Bridge.

Author: Mark Hayes