Nicolas Jackson has justified his price tag at Chelsea – The Athletic

By Simon Johnson3h ago

Nicolas Jackson has justified his price tag — there, I said it.

Compliments and praise have been in short supply for the 22-year-old since he joined Chelsea from Villarreal for just over €35million (£29.8m; $38.2m) last June. A lowlight reel of high-profile misses — Opta ranks him fourth in the Premier League for most ‘big chances’ wasted (15) in 2024-24 — is more associated with the forward than his more positive contributions.

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It is something Jackson accepts has been a problem. After scoring his 11th goal (in all competitions) for Chelsea with a fine header in the 2-2 draw against Brentford last week, he said: “It’s not enough because I missed a lot, a lot of chances. I should have scored more than 11.”

The Brentford game provided another example as he dribbled around goalkeeper Mark Flekken only for a tame shot with his left foot to be cleared easily off the line by Mathias Jorgensen.

Every striker is guilty of bad finishing, even the best of the best. Who sits on top of this list of dishonour? Only arguably the finest centre-forward in the world in Manchester City’s Erling Haaland (26), followed by other highly rated Premier League frontmen Darwin Nunez (22) and Ollie Watkins (18).

Haaland would have been proud of the lovely flick that put Chelsea in front in the 3-2 victory over Newcastle United on Monday night. As Cole Palmer’s scuffed effort was drifting wide, Jackson’s instinctive touch diverted the ball into the bottom corner.

He has now scored in three successive matches and four in seven since returning from the Africa Cup of Nations with Senegal. Perhaps his best performance of the lot was in a match where Jackson did not find the net — although he did register an assist — as he caused Manchester City a lot of problems in the 1-1 draw last month.

Jackson celebrates the deft flick that put Chelsea ahead against Newcastle (Glyn Kirk/AFP via Getty Images)

Jackson is certainly raw and can frustrate more than he pleases, but compared to some of his more illustrious predecessors who have led the line for Chelsea, you have to say he is doing a better job of fulfilling expectations than they did.

You get what you pay for in this game and Chelsea’s outlay on Jackson sent out a pretty strong signal from the outset of the standard Chelsea had acquired. Spending around £30million on a young goalscorer, with the prices set for players these days, told everyone that this guy was not the finished article before you looked any deeper into his background. To put his fee into perspective, Brighton have already put a £100million valuation on 19-year-old Evan Ferguson’s head and he has a return of just 16 goals from 63 appearances.

As has been well documented, but for a failed medical, Jackson would have joined Bournemouth in January 2024. He registered just 13 goals and six assists in Villarreal’s first team before moving to England, the majority of which came in the final few months of last season.

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Ruthless finishing, ‘Neymar’ dribbles and pace: Why Chelsea signed Jackson

Chelsea have spent a fortune on much bigger names over the years in the search for a consistent goalscorer. Over the past two decades, only Didier Drogba and Diego Costa have made the grade. Andriy Shevchenko (£30.8million in 2006), Fernando Torres (£50million in 2011), Alvaro Morata (worth up to £70million in 2017) and Romelu Lukaku (£97.5million in 2021) all broke Chelsea’s club record transfer fee when they were signed and all disappointed.

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Out of the quartet, only Morata registered more Premier League goals in one season (11) than Jackson has now (nine) and the latter still has up to 10 more matches to overtake the Spain international’s tally.

Given how often Kai Havertz played up front for Chelsea — he joined from Bayer Leverkusen for £62million plus add-ons in 2020 — he should be included in the list, too. The most goals the Germany international scored in a Premier League campaign for the club was eight in 2021-22.

Chelsea’s plan was to develop a partnership between Jackson and the more high-profile acquisition of Christopher Nkunku (bought from RB Leipzig for more than €60million) this season. It looked like a promising understanding was developing in pre-season, but Nkunku has started just two games due to injury.

So playing for the first time in a different league in a struggling team still trying to find their way, perhaps Jackson’s achievements so far should be seen in a better light. The moans and groans he regularly receives from the Chelsea fanbase during fixtures suggests otherwise, though.

Jackson said after the Brentford fixture that he is beginning to feel more settled in England and his all-round display against Newcastle was further evidence of this. He has also gone five games without a booking — which, for him, is some achievement as he has registered nine for the campaign and is one away from a two-game ban (if he reaches 10 in the Premier League in 32 matches). Perhaps the previous message over his ill-discipline from frustrated head coach Mauricio Pochettino is finally getting through.

Pochettino likes what he’s seen from Jackson since he came back from representing Senegal at AFCON, saying: “When they are young and arrive from out of England, they need to know first the Premier League. They also need to know their team-mates to perform. But he is performing really well.

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“The effort is always there; how he presses, the work rate is massive. Of course, he has the quality. With more games, with experience, he is going to be more calm in front of the goal and he is going to be more clinical. He has the capacity, but we need to keep believing that he can be the player, the striker, the offensive player that can score for Chelsea a lot of goals.”

Jackson has a lot of improving to do, but he is showing that he has the potential to do just that.

(Top photo: Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

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Simon Johnson has spent the majority of his career as a sports reporter since 2000 covering Chelsea, firstly for Hayters and then the London Evening Standard. This included going to every game home and away as the west London club secured the Champions League in 2012. He has also reported on the England national team between 2008-19 and been a regular contributor to talkSPORT radio station for over a decade. Follow Simon on Twitter @SJohnsonSport

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