Graham Potter’s Chelsea aren’t playing like a Potter team right now, but that’s OK

Like corporations, clubs like to talk about vision, philosophy, values ​​and identity. Who are we? Where do we want to be? This is what keeps motivational speakers constantly working and MBA programs in business.

You assume the current incarnation of Chelsea is no different. There is a “project” – no, better yet, a “road map” to success – and it included hiring manager Graham Potter, as well as a group of new scouts and recruiters and a huge investment in January. (Of course they had made a huge investment in the summer transfer window before that, but that was probably not part of the grand vision as the only decision makers were club chairman Todd Boly, co-owner Behdad Egbali and manager Thomas Tuchel, with the latter quickly dismissed by two others.)

The problem with a roadmap – and not just for Chelsea, but for any football club – is that it can conflict with the actual results.

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Depending on the club, the wisdom and patience of both the fans and those in charge, there is always some leeway in terms of results. You will sacrifice results in exchange for growth and development, whether it be building chemistry, developing young players, or helping newcomers. But you can sacrifice something, partly because at some point the players get restless, the fans get angry, and the income you get from home gates and prize money decreases.

Chelsea won their last two games, Saturday at home against Leeds United in the Premier League and Tuesday in the Champions League against Borussia Dortmund, securing a place in the final eight. This is good in terms of appeasing the fans and getting extra money.

Is how they got there part of the “project”? Probably no. Does it matter? Probably yes.

Potter was hired – at great cost, if we haven’t forgotten, the $25m (£22m) paid to Brighton in compensation is second only to the fee Bayern paid RB Leipzig for Julian Nagelsmann’s services – in end of his track record with Brighton. , where he played attractive modern football and had an excellent record in relation to the team’s resources, avoiding relegation on a tight budget in his first two seasons and then taking them to the top 10 last year.

– Potter: ‘I’m still here’ despite Chelsea pressure

Potter is a thoughtful, intelligent guy. Perhaps he is not like the traditional English footballers of yesteryear, who are suspicious of eloquent ex-players like Potter with a university education, not to mention a master’s degree in “leadership, personal and professional development”. 12 years ago he went to the Swedish fourth tier to get his first coaching job. But he certainly could play a good game with the types of private investors like Boli and Egbali who were looking for an edge, and Potter’s continuous rise up the management food chain suggested that he didn’t just have a “growth mindset” but that he actually grew. in growth.

Here’s the thing: when we saw Potter’s football at Chelsea, the kind that impressed at Brighton, results ranged from mediocre to bad, especially in possession. In the last two victories, we have not seen much – although there is nothing wrong with that – and nevertheless, their results were good.

Not that the Leeds and Dortmund games played the same way, but there are some creepy parallels.

Chelsea got off to a strong start against both, creating many chances but failing to convert. Against Leeds it lasted about half an hour. They then slowed down, took the lead early in the second half when Wesley Fofana headed off a set piece in the 53rd minute, and then made defensive substitutions to maintain the lead. After Chelsea took the lead, they only managed two shots on goal with xG 0.07; Leeds had eight, with an xG of 0.76.

As for Dortmund? Chelsea took the lead on aggregate with Kai Havertz’s penalty in the 53rd minute – just like against Leeds – and after that they made defensive substitutions to protect him. In the last 37 minutes, Chelsea have had just one shot on goal (Haverz from close to the touchline) with an xG of 0.01. Dortmund landed 11 shots on goal with xG 0.86.

The difference was that on Saturday against relegation-threatening opponents under a new coach, they had a lot of possession (58%), while against Dortmund, the league leader of the Bundesliga, it was much less: only 39%. To some extent, this is understandable: Leeds were happy to concede the ball away from home against a stronger side, while Borussia Dortmund, at their peak with nine consecutive Bundesliga victories, demanded the ball.

Either way, 39% home possession in a win-winning game doesn’t look much like Potter. No, when you consider that in three full seasons at Brighton, his team averaged 52% possession. When a team on a budget has this much Premier League ball, you can be sure of one thing: it’s by design.

Even without the numbers, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Potter’s Chelsea are not playing the way his Brighton side played, but only with the best players the owners hoped. There are many reasons for this – a new manager, much less time on the training ground given Chelsea’s European commitments, no pre-season, a brand new squad of newcomers arriving in January – but put that aside for now.

If you are a Potter and want to keep your job, what do you do? Are you trying to play like you did at Brighton, which is what hired you? Or do you prioritize results by doing what more traditional textbook managers do, like closing a store after taking the lead and implementing a game plan that basically consists of Enzo Fernandez trying to hit the ball and waiting for Joao Felix to create something out of nothing. ?

I don’t really know the answer, and it’s clearly not a binary choice; there are shades of grey, and the results also give credibility and credibility, which Potter also needs. But what’s pretty obvious is that the Chelsea mini-twist has nothing to do with what got him the job in the first place, or the football he’ll try to play next season… unless he gets sacked. first.


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