Why are Chelsea targeting Nicolas Jackson?

ANALYSIS Why are Chelsea targeting Nicolas Jackson?

Seye Omidiora 22:28 - 21.06.2023

Jackson was relatively unknown to many until the final months of last season. Should the West London club be chasing the Villarreal frontman?

Very little was known about Nicolas Jackson until last season and the young forward’s body of work in the campaign’s concluding weeks largely forms that knowledge.

Nine of Jackson’s 12 LaLiga goals in 2022-23 came after the 30th gameweek, immediately casting doubts on Chelsea’s rationale behind the potential acquisition.

On the one hand, it ties into the West London club’s desire to build around a young core of players under the new ownership. 

In that sense, chasing the 22-year-old before rival suitors notice the Senegal international’s talent is understandable, even if Bournemouth reportedly struck a deal for the forward in January.

Conversely, there is a feeling that one season — or in Jackson’s case, a few months — should not bring about the heavy outlay, reported to be in the region of €35 million.

All of Jackson’s goals came from inside the 18-yard box, but it does not tell the whole story of a young striker whose goals saw him create separation to finish, dart behind the defence to run on to through-balls or through individual skill. At times, it was a combination of two of those elements.

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The marksman’s 12 league goals won 13 points for the Yellow Submarine (20 percent of the team’s 64 points), and they materialised from 23 shots on target. 

Six of the talented forward's goals were match winners, only Borja Iglesias, Robert Lewandowski (both eight) and Antoine Griezmann (seven) netted more game-clinching strikes.

While doubts instantly arise about its sustainability, the Villarreal man was probably a beneficiary of the clever positions taken inside the box.

Chelsea targeting Villarreal forward Nicolas Jackson
Nicolas Jackson was red-hot in the concluding weeks of 2022-23

Jackson’s optimal positioning

The Villarreal man’s first Liga goal of 2022-23 came in gameweek one away at Real Valladolid.

Even though Yeremy Pino’s ball was intended for Gerard Moreno, Jackson’s movement to the back post allowed him to score on the stretch from close range after Jawad El Yamiq’s slight touch prevented Moreno from opening the scoring in the eventual 3-0 win.

Nicolas Jackson (red arrow) peeled away at the far post unnoticed...
...and connects to Yeremy Pino's pass from three yards out

Against Athletic Club in May, this was evident in both goals in Villarreal’s 5-1 triumph.

When Alejandro Baena received possession on the edge of the area, Jackson’s movement to stay onside and create separation helped in the resulting close-range finish after Baena’s initial shot was deflected onto his path.

Jackson (white oval) is on the defenders' blind side before Baena shoots...
...and the ball falls to Jackson for a close-range goal after the previous effort was blocked.

His second goal in the same game came about after Unai Simon diverted Pino’s shot into the striker’s path.

Jackson was unsurprisingly positioned to score another tap-in after Unai Simon's save fell in his path.

Mostly, though, Jackson was a constant beneficiary of running onto through-balls.

Jackson timing his runs in behind

After initially having one goal ruled out for offside in the 67th minute of Villarreal’s gameweek 11 clash against Almeria, Jackson netted a late winning goal for the 10-man hosts.

The forward notably began his run from deep before timing his dash just as Dani Parejo was about to play the pass.

Jackson (blue arrow) times his run to perfection to meet Dan Parejo's pass over the top of Almeria's defence

Also striking was Jackson not rushing his finish despite the situation — the Yellow Submarine were down a player, and the clock was running down. Indeed, this was a characteristic of the 22-year-old last season.

Jackson does not rush himself against Almeria in second-half stoppage time...
...and calmly slots the ball home.

Against Cadiz in gameweek 36, the 22-year-old latched onto Moreno’s pass and went round Jeremias Ledesma, who was surprisingly far away from his line, before slotting into an unguarded goal.

Jackson latches on to a pass from Gerard Moreno (out of shot) and goes around opposition goalkeeper Jeremias Ledesma...
...before finding the back of the net

Nevertheless, Jackson was not wholly reliant on service to find the back of the net.

Jackson scoring through individual brilliance

In the same game against Cadiz, the Villarreal man opened the scoring through his doing.

After outmuscling his marker inside the penalty area, he took the ball past the committed Ledesma and was composed not to shoot hurriedly.

The Yellow Submarine forward carried the ball into a more promising position inside the area, deceived covering right-back Iza Carcelen with a feint before scoring from four yards out.

Jackson tricks Iza Carcelen by shaping to shoot but doesn't
Jackson successfully worked his way into the optimum position for an easy goal.

Jackson had effectively turned a low-percentage chance of scoring into a high-probability chance by himself.

Against Espanyol in late April, the Senegal international ran onto Alberto Moreno’s arced pass into space, twisted and turned Cesar Montes to find half a yard before firing his only left-footed goal of 2022-23 past Fernando Pacheco.

However, the pick of the burgeoning forward’s goals last season was his strike against Real Sociedad at the start of April to double the Yellow Submarine’s lead 20 minutes after being introduced.

Jackson peeled away from the centre to the left, received Pino’s pass in the inside-left channel...

Jackson's movement gives Pino a passing option, which the Spaniard takes...

...and dribbled past Igor Zubeldia and Robin Le Normand before shooting into the bottom-right corner.

Jackson goes past Igor Zubeldia...
Jackson dribbles Robin Le Normand with ease
Soceidad shot-stopper Alex Remiro can only watch as Jackson's effort trickles in.

Despite getting sent off for a second yellow card in second-half stoppage time, Jackson's sublime finish was the game's highlight.

In another situation, Jackson hit the woodwork against Valencia in early May after carrying the ball between two opponents. It would have been the youngster’s only goal that was not within the penalty area.

Despite Jackson’s skill set, several of the Villarreal striker’s threatening situations materialised from passes into space or balls that sent him running through on goal.

The 22-year-old is markedly a counter-attacking threat, although it remains to be seen how this is utilised if his reported move to Chelsea goes through this summer, with personal terms agreed upon but negotiations ongoing between the clubs.

Despite a marginal difference in both clubs’ average possession last season — Villarreal (56.9%) and Chelsea (58.7%) — the Spanish side fell way behind the Premier League club for 10 or more open-play passing sequences — 410 and 585, respectively — and open-play passing sequences that had 10 passes or higher before resulting in a shot or touch in the opposition box — 81 and 123, respectively.

Still rough around the edges, Jackson’s ball flawed ball retention could be a source of frustration in the short term.

If a deal materialises, Chelsea would be gambling on the Villarreal man. But at 22, the West London club hopes he improves significantly and surpasses expectations.