Finally Potter’s found a system that works
It’s taken a £300m January splurge and endless tactical tinkering but…
IT WOULD have been easy to scoff when Graham Potter spoke of ‘ a feeling that it’s close’ at Chelsea before the visit of Leeds. The Blues have hugely underachieved this season and that has denied Potter and his players the benefit of the doubt.
Chelsea’s ongoing struggle for goals, Potter’s safety- first substitutions as he looked to see out a precious win and the fact the home side were clinging on against the Premier League’s fourth-bottom side may be hard for their critics to overlook.
But in the context of what Chelsea and Potter have been through lately, there were some green shoots attempting to poke through against Leeds as the manager battles to prove he can turn this situation around.
They were evident in Chelsea’s set-up, parts of the performance and then their resilience in what was a high- stakes situation for Potter and his players.
For the first of two games expected to be pivotal to the manager’s future, Potter reverted to a back three against Leeds.
It is a set-up that will bring back happy memories of recent success under antonio Conte and Thomas Tuchel, but it is one Potter had tried before in his Chelsea reign without the same instant results.
on this occasion he had more of the required pieces in place. a left-footed centre back to provide balance in Benoit Badiashile and another quick defender in Wesley Fofana, either side of an experienced central defender in kalidou koulibaly.
Potter also had at least one of his first-choice wing-backs, who are crucial to this system, in Ben Chilwell. Then there were two mobile central midfielders in Enzo Fernandez and mateo kovacic, behind a fluid front three that had the qualities to pose a threat.
Chelsea’s first half- hour in particular was encouraging. They pinned Leeds back and created enough chances to have enjoyed a more comfortable afternoon than it turned out to be.
here was something to persist with. and here was a Chelsea side which, unlike at various points this season, did not look as if it needed much more — yes, even more — in order to improve the team Potter can send out. That is the least that should be expected after a near £600million spent on new players this season.
Three upgrades are already in the building in Thiago silva, reece James and n’Golo kante, who missed saturday’s game at stamford Bridge due to injury but can all make a difference.
‘It would be beneficial to stick with a formation,’ said Potter. ‘It has not been straightforward because we have had people injured regularly which has made it hard to have that consistency that you need, that we want. But we had a nice balance and were better in terms of attacking, certainly in the first half. That’s something for us to improve.’
Goals continue to be a major issue for Chelsea and Potter but a back three also puts two of their attacking weapons, Chilwell and James, in better positions.
a big factor in the Blues’ struggles this season has been the pair’s unavailability due to injury, though there is optimism James will be fit to face Borussia dortmund tomorrow in the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie, that second crucial game for Potter.
Chilwell, who set up Fofana’s winner with an outswinging corner, was a constant out-ball and a raiding threat down the left against Leeds. Potter said: ‘They are two roles they are comfortable in. It brings out their quality so it is something for us to go forward with.’
The manager’s plan is facing instant disruption, though, as he will be without Badiashile against dortmund. The Frenchman is ineligible, having not been included in Chelsea’s Champions League squad. UEFA rules limited the number of January signings the club could register.
one of those prioritised ahead of Badiashile, winger mykhailo mudryk, has started the last three games on the bench and did not get a minute against Leeds.
If Potter wishes to persist with the back three he could reshuffle the positions and bring in Trevoh Chalobah, or he could recall marc Cucurella from the cold and ask him to fulfil Badiashile’s role.
Cucurella is left-footed like the Frenchman and has been used there by Potter at Brighton and Chelsea, but he lacks Badiashile’s composure and physicality. he has also not even made the squad for Chelsea’s last three games.
dortmund will be a far bigger test for Chelsea than Leeds. It is a pivotal game for Potter, one likely to give a far clearer indication of whether Chelsea have turned a corner. They at least head into that game lifted a little.
Potter said: ‘You have to go through experiences both good and bad to develop and grow and with the team that’s adapting to each other and growing.
‘ one- nil wins, although you want to be more comfortable, they show a little bit about your character and resilience.’
CHELSEA (3-4-3): Arrizabalaga 7; W Fofana 7.5, Koulibaly 7.5, Badiashile 7.5; Loftus-Cheek 6.5 (Chalobah 84min), Fernandez 7 (Madueke 84), Kovacic 7 (Chukwuemeka 75, 6.5), CHILWELL 8; Sterling 7 (Zakaria 68, 6), Havertz 6.5, Felix 7 (Gallagher 68, 6). Scorer: Fofana 53. Booked: Fofana, Gallagher. Manager: Graham Potter 7. LEEDS (4-2-3-1): Meslier 6.5; Ayling 6.5, Koch 7, Wober 7, Firpo 6.5; Adams 6.5, McKennie 6.5; Summerville 7.5, Aaronson 6 (Joseph 68, 6), Harrison 5.5 (Greenwood 80); Rutter 5.5 (Gnonto 68, 7). Booked: None. Manager:. Javi Gracia 6. Referee: Michael Oliver 7 Attendance:. 39,905.