In moving to Roma for £34m, where he will work under José Mourinho, Tammy Abraham joined Fikayo Tomori in moving to Serie A to further his career away from Chelsea. Aged 23 when he signed a five-year contract in August 2021, he may also eventually become the latest to earn a return to the club – Chelsea negotiated a buy-back clause of £68m, double the price they are accepting from Roma.
Perhaps aptly, it was Romelu Lukaku’s move back to Stamford Bridge, seven years after he was sold to Everton, that did so much to ensure Abraham’s departure. “Tammy will always be welcomed back at Stamford Bridge as one of our own,” said Chelsea’s influential director Marina Granovskaia.
Operating as a central striker, Abraham offers a variety of supporting movements to join and create attacks. His most common movement involves attacking the spaces in behind an opposing defence, to pursue through-balls. Those direct, penetrative runs contribute to regular goalscoring chances, though his finishing when one-on-one still needs to improve.
Abraham most commonly scores from instinctive efforts, inside or near the penalty area, even when he has limited time and space. His nose for goal is already impressive, and he can find the corners of a goal within two touches, regardless of his body shape or the direction of assist. Inside the penalty area he is also a quick and adaptable finisher who is often capable of beating goalkeepers or defenders by shooting early.
He can therefore score when there is pressure between himself and the goalline, potentially capitalising on a goalkeeper being unsighted (above); his height and aerial ability also offers teammates an alternative method of playing possession into the area. That he can also shoot after shifting the ball into the relevant position means he can create narrow passages to goal, even against increasing numbers, when he possesses the strength to resist or roll opponents.
It is when attempting to contribute from further out that Abraham has proved more limited. He can accurately set possession to a teammate (below), but if he needs to take numerous touches while under pressure he struggles to retain or link play.
His first touch when under pressure is similarly unconvincing, and can result in him either delaying or undermining an attack, as can his attempted passes in those circumstances, and his ability to protect the ball.
That he is so potent from close range ultimately compensates for his ineffectiveness in deeper territory, particularly given his movements are largely positive. Yet if he is to eventually realistically compete to be England’s starting striker, his overall game, from deeper territory, will need to improve. Like Harry Kane, the world’s finest attackers consistently offer superior, all-round contributions.
Role at Chelsea
During Frank Lampard’s time as their manager – Abraham became peripheral under Lampard’s successor Thomas Tuchel – Chelsea experimented with a 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1, and a back three, and in each system Abraham remained a central figure and was complemented by consistent, attacking support (above). When using a back three their width was provided by their wing-backs, so two attacking midfielders therefore almost permanently remained in the inside channels to link to those wing-backs and with central play, and to provide supporting runs around their lone striker.
That Abraham had those runners to link with encouraged him to develop his combination play in deeper territory. Support from both sides meant that he became less predictable; those runners also helped him to avoid being underloaded, and drew opponents away from him and potentially possession. Runs into the penalty area from Willian, Pedro, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Mason Mount, Ross Barkley and more reduced the pressure on Abraham when he was close to goal (below), where he could isolate defenders and use his explosive touches to create space to shoot.
When they used a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3, similar movements occurred around Abraham when he was in both deeper and more advanced territory. When they did, further movements were required from elsewhere, ordinarily involving wide players moving infield, and full-backs overlapping, ensuring greater cover was required behind the ball – potentially from an individual playing centrally.
In their 4-2-3-1, deeper forward runs from one of the midfielders within their double pivot – most commonly N’Golo Kanté – didn’t always reach Abraham in sufficient time, but his ability to combine with a deeper, third runner was improving. He was more effective when Chelsea selected a back four, because either system invited him to drift in front of opposing defenders, to where he excelled at receiving possession and finishing.