The job of a football manager is a fickle path. At most top clubs, should results begin to flow the wrong way, managers are put on thin ice and sometimes given the sack.
It is perhaps best embodied by none other than Chelsea Football Club. The idea of patience or believing in a vision or long-term stability does not seem to run in coherence with the ownerships at Stamford Bridge.
It cannot be completely dismissed as a wrong approach either due to the massive success over the last decade. Under the previous ownership, when Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich was at the helm, Chelsea won 19 trophies in 19 seasons, under 14 different managers.
The revolving door for managers became synonymous with the club’s strategy and it doesn’t appear to have changed under new owner Todd Boehly. The American owner parted ways with Thomas Tuchel six gameweeks into the new season.
While the owner clarified that the decision came on the back of an understanding that the manager did not share their vision, it did leave fans baffled as Tuchel’s sack came on the back of a £250+ million outlay in the summer transfer market.
Questions were raised as to why Tuchel was backed so heavily in the transfer window but never given time to work his new signings into a functioning system. The unexpected 1-0 loss to Dynamo Zagreb in the Champions League was Tuchel’s last match in charge. It raised understandable questions that results might actually have had played a bigger part in the sacking than what Boehly intends to let on.
So what happened after Tuchel?
The Graham Potter era (2022 – ?)
In walks Graham Potter, one of the most promising and rapidly rising young British managers in the game today. He has done a phenomenal job at Brighton &Hove Albion over the last three seasons, with an incredibly limited budget. After six league matches this season, Brighton sat above Chelsea in fourth place, with impressive victories over Manchester United and Leicester City among others.
The swift announcement of Graham Potter coincided with the tragic news that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II passed away at the age of 96. It led to the postponement of Chelsea’s two Premier League games (against Fulham and Liverpool).
With the last international break prior to the World Cup now underway, Potter’s Chelsea played only one match in the Champions League against RB Salzburg.
It leaves the new boss with two more weeks to train and prepare the squad in his methods. While it is never ideal to take over a new team mid-season, Chelsea’s lengthy break from football due to unexpected circumstances will give Potter some much-needed time to mold his squad.
On that note, let’s have a look at what we can expect from Graham Potter’s Chelsea this season.
Chelsea’s current squad round-up
Chelsea have spent more money than any other European club this summer, strengthening key areas on the pitch. Experienced centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly was signed from Napoli. Raheem Sterling was the first major signing this summer and he seems to have instantly made a positive impact with four goals to his name already.
Wesley Fofana and Marc Cucurella, both relatively inexperienced defenders, were the two most expensive signings as the club seeks long-term squad planning.
However, the deadline-day signings of Aubameyang and Zakaria were the ones that raised eyebrows in hindsight, considering Aubameyang in particular has played for Tuchel before, and was seen as a manager’s signing. The fact that Tuchel only got to work with his former player for one match before being sacked is bound to raise some questions.
The existing star cast at Potter’s disposal
We hope Mr Potter has carried his magic wand to Stamford Bridge, as there are a lot of immediate issues that need to be addressed. Chelsea’s expensively assembled squad has some inflated egos and will need re-tuning.
Chelsea also have an amazing young squad of players, combined with vast experience of stalwarts like Thiago Silva and Cesar Azpiicueta. The squad has already proven itself by winning the Champions League in 2021, along with the Club World Cup and UEFA Super Cup trophies, confirming their collective winning mentality.
Players such as Mason Mount, Kai Havertz, Reece James and Wesley Fofana are still very young and are yet to hit their respective peaks. Others such as Christian Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech are ridiculously talented players who seemed to have lost their way under Thomas Tuchel, and could benefit the most from a change of manager.
Talking tactics under Graham Potter
Potter has made a name for himself for his football philosophy. He is a tactically flexible manager and his brand of football is generally easy on the eye, which was one of the biggest criticisms that Tuchel faced, especially in the later stages of his Chelsea tenure.
Boring football is generally tolerated when the team is winning on the pitch, but without the results, it could be fatal for a manager, especially at a trigger-happy club like Chelsea.
At Brighton, Potter’s go-to formation was the same 3-4-3 system that Tuchel applied to his Chelsea squad over the last 18 months,
However, the execution is rather different. One of the biggest difference between both managers and their tactics is that Potter allows the players a lot more freedom to express themselves, with slick vertical passing across the pitch.
Tuchel preferred a more rigid system with a slow build-up, which was initially very effective but became more and more frustrating as the results stopped coming.
The 3-4-3 was Tuchel’s go-to formation before he departed, and it was also the formation that enabled Chelsea to win the 2021 Champions League with the best defense in the competition.
What Potter would like to improve here is to increase the pace of the build-up, with the help of explosive wingbacks Reece James and Ben Chilwell/Marc Cucurella.
Aubameyang’s movement in and around the box should create a lot of opportunities for him, while the two inside forwards need to quickly link-up with the new striker to create a good chemistry up front.
Marc Cucurella was Potter’s star player at Brighton before his transfer, and his versatility means Potter may use him in a back three as a left-sided centre-back or as a cover in the left wingback position.
The 4-2-3-1 or a modified version of the classical 4-3-3 has also been mooted as a radical system change to get the best out of Chelsea’s stagnating squad.
This formation will give a new lease of life to wingers like Pulisic and Ziyech, which could be a game-changer for Chelsea. This formation, however, requires a proper defensive midfielder as well as mobile centre-backs.
That means the team will be reliant on Kante or Zakaria being available and Thiago Silva might see fewer minutes on the pitch. This formation could also bring out the best in Mason Mount, Kai Havertz and even Conor Gallagher in the attacking midfielder role.