From Tomahawks To Stability: Is Graham Potter The Right Man For Chelsea?

From Tomahawks To Stability: Is Graham Potter The Right Man For Chelsea?

“You understand football is emotional. When you lose, you feel it; you feel the pain; you feel the suffering; you feel the discomfort. Sometimes it’s hard to understand the ‘why’, and it’s easier just to blame somebody.”

In last week’s presser, Graham Potter aptly summed up the feeling around SW6 right now.

Chelsea are a club that have always thrived under insanity. “Embrace the chaos”, as they say, never seems to suit a club better than the West London outfit. For a club that has built its identity on instant success over long-term stability, Chelsea finds itself in unfamiliar territory now at a possibly era-defining crossroads.

Graham Potter’s Blues are currently languishing in mid-table obscurity at 10th in the Premier League table. After their latest defeat in the league to Fulham – their first against them since 2006, the club has won just 1 out of their last 9 league games. The two-time European champions find themselves closer to the relegation zone than to league leaders and fellow London rivals Arsenal.

Debutant Joao Felix’s red card in Chelsea’s 2-1 loss at Craven Cottage probably best summed up their season in a nutshell. The tragicomedy of a player that was signed on loan for an expensive fee of £11m for just half a season now having to miss out on a whole month of football due to suspension was just another sorry tale in this lengthy and pitiful script of a season for Chelsea.

Plagued by a raft of injuries – a number large enough to field an entire playing eleven that could fight for a top 4 place by itself, failed summer transfers of more than £250m that have not made any impact whatsoever, being knocked out of both domestic cup competitions; the club is well and truly in the mire.

After Chelsea’s back-to-back losses to champions Man City last weekend, Potter came under intense pressure from the media, and even the loyal supporters of the club. After the initial 1-0 loss at the Bridge that at least had some positives for Chelsea to take away in terms of their performance and fighting spirit, the 4-0 FA Cup loss at the Etihad just 2 days later undid whatever good the previous game might have done in both the eyes of the players as well as the fans.

Down 3-0 at half time, the 7500-strong away contingent that traveled to Manchester could see their numbers dwindling as Chelsea fans hastened for the exits. The Blues mustered 0 shots on target in the first half, and just 1 solitary shot on target the whole game.

This was just a reflection of Chelsea’s woeful form in front of goal for a couple of seasons now. They are at the bottom of the charts for shots taken, accumulating the least xG in front of goal that Chelsea as a club have accumulated since the metric was first recorded.

But the surprise lies in their complete lack of defensive stability that was the fulcrum of Tuchel’s success, which has now seen them fail to keep a cleansheet in 10 of their last 11 outings in all competitions.

Chelsea’s xG progression against Fulham Premier Legue 2022/23

Clearly upset by the showing on the pitch, even the traveling Chelsea fans started singing about Tuchel and Abramovich at both the Etihad and Craven Cottage. It’s one thing to be criticized on social media, but when match-going supporters start to chant against the manager, the end is nigh more often than not.

Potter has come under immense scrutiny, and has shown signs of listlessness and frustration, emotions seldom noticed in his revered spell at Brighton. But the Chelsea job is one of the hottest and hardest roles in football for a manager, and pressure comes with the territory.

“This is hard for people to get their head around as Chelsea for 20 years has been one thing and now all of a sudden it’s different”, Potter reiterated. “It is a challenge, stimulating, and ridiculously hard. I think it is probably the hardest job in football because of that leadership change and the expectations because of, rightly, where people see Chelsea”.

Despite Mourinho once claiming the contrary saying, “I don’t think it’s very difficult to coach at Chelsea because I was champion three times, Ancelotti was champion, Antonio Conte was champion. Who else? It cannot be very, very difficult because we win titles there”, while he himself was a victim of Chelsea’s ruthless decision-making.

It is granted that Potter has had mitigating circumstances beyond his control and that he needs time to build this new identity for a club soaked in a different brand for years together, but football is a cutthroat industry. He will be given time by the new owners, but unless there is progress shown on the football pitch in terms of performances and results, there is not much credit in the bank for him at the club.

The constant barrage of questions in press conferences about this very predicament has also seen Potter uncharacteristically lose his cool. “You see me here, and this isn’t actually me all the time. So, of course, there are times where you get cross and you get angry, it’s not like I’m just some robot just talking to this tin can. Of course, there’s stuff that happens”, said Potter, when asked about whether he gets emotional.

Previous managers at the club always seemed to adopt a siege mentality that resulted in an ‘us against the world’ mantra that became the identity of Chelsea Football Club. On the contrary, Potter, both as a personality and a manager, along with his appointment, seems like a stark departure from the old times.

potter vs tuchel vs lampard
Comparing Potter vs Tuchel & Lampard in their first 18 games in charge

The fans face the challenge of having to accept that a new era will bring with it a painful and rigorous transition. While top 4 remains paramount, it seems a bridge too far at the moment. Chelsea’s season might already be over, but whatever happens between now and the end of the season will define the club’s trajectory for years to come.

The rebuild has already begun, as Chelsea have astonishingly hijacked Arsenal’s move for Mykhailo Mudryk by agreeing a £100m deal with Shakhtar Donetsk. However, the club still hasn’t addressed its midfield and fullback issues. From the outside, it seems like a scattergun approach where they have yet again splashed the cash on another fancy forward which some believe they could’ve spent on World Cup-winning midfielder Enzo Fernandez instead.

But these are not whimsical and uninformed decisions from the new owners. These decisions involve the expertise of newly recruited technical director Christopher Vivell and sporting director Paul Winstanley. So there might be a method to the madness after all, with intent being clear to invest in the youth. Youngsters Santos and Fofana have also been bought this window, with a summer clearout planned ahead.

The likes of Lewis Hall and Carney Chukweumeka have been getting more gametime and have looked promising on the pitch despite their inexperience. These players are young and coachable and it is where Potter’s strength lies, in being able to imprint his ideas on hungry players who are willing to buy into the manager, something that might be difficult to achieve with superstars and big names.

The Blues boss has a track record of taking time, with his spells at Brighton and Ostersund also having similarly slow starts. Chelsea however, is a different environment altogether. But Potter firmly believes he needs time. This is where there is a juxtaposition of contrasting ideas, culture, and the vision of the club and its fans.

When asked about it, he said, “You only have to look at some of my colleagues in a similar position. Pep, for example, in his first season, was being criticised quite heavily. I think Mikel Arteta has had a period of criticism. Klopp, in the first few years, would have had criticism as well. These guys are fantastic.”

After Chelsea’s game against Palace at the weekend, half of the season will have passed by. A half Chelsea would like to forget. But there is still another half left. While there may not be trophies to contend for apart from the Champions League, which looks like an unscalable peak at the moment and at the same time their only way to get into the competition once again next season, there is however still a top 4 berth that seems far away but not impossible to attain.

Beyond just the positions in the table, Chelsea can also set themselves up for the seasons ahead with a core group of young players who could be the bedrock for this new era for Chelsea Football Club.

These are unprecedented times, at a club that have always been associated with the tag of being serial winners. In this next phase of their history, it remains to be seen how the fans take to this shift in identity and whether Graham Potter will be the face of it in months to come.

It’s a period of transition & unknowns for the Blues which could see the club fade away into obscurity for a few years, with the hope that it culminates into something akin to Arteta’s rebuilding of Chelsea’s London rivals Arsenal.

There’s pressure for getting results from the fans, board & media alike, which comes with the territory of being a Chelsea manager; something that Potter is learning quickly.

Will the club hierarchy & fans buy into a stable regime under Potter & his project, or will the club continue its tomahawk policy of hiring & firing managers through the ever-revolving door of managers at Stamford Bridge?

Sure it’s a turbulent start, but if all the pieces of the jigsaw fall into place and if the vision of the new owners comes to fruition, it could leave a successful and lasting legacy for years to come.

Also read: Brentford vs Liverpool (3-1): Tactical Analysis – Premier League 2022/23

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