Graham Potters dream appointment at Chelsea is turning into a nightmare.
Manchester City have done plenty of damage to him and his squad this season, knocking them out of the Carabao Cup before Christmas and leaving Chelsea down in 10th place, 10 points off the top four, with a Premier League win at Stamford Bridge on Thursday.
And the 4-0 FA Cup demolition at the Etihad has now left Potter and his side reeling.
It summed up all that has gone wrong for Chelsea this term: a team depleted by injuries, uncertain in its structure, unable to get the ball up the pitch into dangerous areas and toothless in the final third.
It’s not just their defeats to an elite City side which have wrecked Chelsea’s season, though.
Across the past eight rounds of Premier League games, Chelsea have the fewest wins and have scored the fewest goals. Brentford, Brighton and Nottingham Forest are among the teams to have taken points off them during that streak.
It’s their worst league run since 2010, to go with their first FA Cup third-round exit since 1999.
They are alarming statistics and unwanted records in what is turning into a disastrous season. Potter now must be under massive pressure and is perhaps thankful the new ownership haven’t proved to be as ruthless as Roman Abramovich, so far.
The traveling Chelsea fans, who booed their team off and sing songs for their former owner and Potter’s predecessor Thomas Tuchel, are certainly running out of patience with this project.
But what has gone so badly wrong? Chelsea, still club world champions, reached both domestic cup finals and finished best of the rest behind Man City and Liverpool last season. This is an incredible drop-off.
Suddenly, their Champions League tie with Borussia Dortmund looks like their only salvation this season – but can Potter turn this ship around?
We take a closer look at the big issues facing Chelsea and Potter…
Injuries, inconsistency and disruption
As Potter stressed after Chelsea’s league defeat to Manchester City last Thursday, there are mitigating circumstances to the results which have left Chelsea with just six points from their last eight Premier League games.
The quality of names on their injury list highlights how Potter’s hands have been tied in terms of team selection.
Edouard Mendy, Reece James, Wesley Fofana, Ben Chilwell, N’Golo Kante, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Raheem Sterling, Armando Broja, Christian Pulisic… Prior to Mason Mount’s recovery for Sunday’s FA Cup tie, Chelsea were just one center back away from a formidable injury XI.
The absence of James, with no like-for-like replacement at right wing-back, has been especially damaging, robbing Chelsea of one of their key attackers and limiting their ability to execute a wing-back system.
Chelsea’s injury list
- N’Golo Kante (thigh)
- Reece James (knee)
- Edouard Mendy (shoulder)
- Wesley Fofana (knee)
- Armando Broja (knee)
- Ruben Loftus-Cheek (ankle)
- Raheem Sterling (hamstring)
- Christian Pulisic (ankle)
- Pierre Emerick Aubameyang (back)
The scale of those injuries, combined with the World Cup break and the congested fixtures either side of it, has also denied Potter significant training ground time with his best players.
Eleven of Chelsea’s 12 representatives at the World Cup went beyond the group stage, meaning a delayed return to duty.
It has left the manager having to mix and match from game to game, with debuts handed out to teenagers Omari Hutchinson and Bashir Humphreys in the past week. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given all of that disruption, no Premier League manager has made more changes to his team since October 1, when Potter took charge of Chelsea for the first time.
That inconsistency in selection and formation – Chelsea have started in seven different set-ups under Potter – has done little for the team’s stability of performance.
The injuries have also left them badly short on depth, with depleted options on the bench. Against Man City in the league, Chelsea’s nine substitutes included four teenagers, two other players under 23, Jorginho (31) and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (33).
“I’ve never experienced anything like it,” Potter said about the injury crisis last week. It’s been a frustrating series of blows which has left Chelsea seemingly treading water, grasping for short-term solutions to muddle through. It’s rarely a recipe for success and has damaged Chelsea across all competitions.
Familiar failings in the frontline
Potter could not have foreseen the injury crisis which was to come when he took over at Chelsea but he would have been well aware of the team’s major problems in attack when he signed up to the project.
Tuchel and Frank Lampard before him were unable to find the right formula in that area of the pitch during their tenures and Potter seems equally at a lost as to what the solution is up front.
He began with Hakim Ziyech, Mason Mount and Kai Havertz up top against Man City on Sunday, after Sterling’s early injury last week disrupted their strategy for the league meeting.
But whatever combination Chelsea go with, the stats don’t make for good reading. Chelsea – who didn’t muster a shot in the first 45 at the Etihad – are the lowest scorers in the top 10.
They scored twice or more in each of Potter’s first three games but have failed to score more than once in all but three of the last 12. That doesn’t leave much margin for error at the other end.
Chelsea’s toothless attack at the Etihad
Chelsea’s first shot and their first touch in the Man City box came in the 54th minute.
Aubameyang, the striker signed in the summer as the answer to Chelsea’s misfiring moments in front of goal, has flopped. Embarrassingly subbed on and then subbed off again in the Stamford Bridge defeat to Man City, there’s been no impact from him since the run of three goals in three games in early October, and he was nowhere to be seen on Sunday.
Havertz, who has often got the nod to lead the line instead, has scored important goals for the club in the past but his record of four in 16 Premier League appearances this term is a reminder he’s never going to be the prolific frontman Chelsea are looking for.
Vast sums have been spent on players such as Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner but it seems Chelsea will have to spend much more in this department in the future.
But it’s not necessarily just about the final touch. Chelsea have scored marginally more than their Expected Goals figure in the league this season. It’s their chance creation which is as much to blame.
On Sunday, their first touch in the opposition area came after 54 minutes, with the team looking lost in terms of how to break through their opponents.
Chelsea’s attacking problems at Stamford Bridge
At home in the Premier League, only Bournemouth have had fewer shots, only Wolves have had fewer shots on target
Only Bournemouth have had fewer shots at home in the Premier League; only Wolves have had fewer shots on target on their own patch. Their average figure of 11.1 shots per game prior to the league game with Man City ranked as their lowest output on Opta records.
It all points to a lack of attacking intensity and craft – and the chance creation stats back that up.
Twelve teams have created more big chances than Chelsea, whose figure of 20 is the same as relegation-threatened Everton. Their top chance creator, Sterling, doesn’t even rank in the Premier League top 30 for key passes.
They are astonishing statistics for a Chelsea team which would have hoped to be competing at the very top of the table.
Chelsea are crying out for a lethal striker – but their problems start further back. Their chance creation simply isn’t good enough.
Unsurprisingly, given that attacking output, the Chelsea fans are becoming frustrated and fed up with what they’re seeing from their side.
The mood seemed to shift significantly at the Etihad on Sunday, when Chelsea’s usually tight defense collapsed, but their disgruntlement has been forged at home.
They could be heard yelling ‘shoot’ as their team got into dangerous territory against Man City last Thursday but once again they left Stamford Bridge having not seen their team score.
Chelsea won just eight of their 16 home Premier League games in 2022, the fewest wins they’ve managed at home since 1996. The New Year has started on the wrong foot, too.
It all adds to the pressure on Potter and the players. These fans have been brought up on years of success over the past two decades and won’t stand for what they’re getting for their money right now.
The league loss to Man City means Chelsea have failed to beat a top-half team this season across seven matches and they didn’t lay a glove on Pep Guardiola’s side across two cup ties. There really has been little for the Blues’ followers to savor so far this term.
Jamie Carragher pointed out last week that, despite spending a Premier League record £278.4m in the summer transfer window, Chelsea feel further away from where they want to be.
Significant spending this January seems a necessity and an inevitability, with Benoit Badiashile already brought in, but given Chelsea’s raft of problems, can they simply buy their way out of trouble?
Instead, Potter desperately needs time and to weather this storm until the injury crisis relents. Perhaps then a clearer picture of Potter’s Chelsea will emerge.
But that means more short-term pain for Chelsea supporters – and this is a club where patience has historically been in short supply. Writing off a season, even before it’s even reached its halfway point, is not acceptable at Chelsea.
If Potter is to survive, it could be an extremely rocky few weeks or even months ahead.
This campaign has been a crushing blow for supporters and also for new owner Todd Boehly, given the huge sums he invested to take over from Abramovich – and the knock-on costs of missing out on Champions League football next season, should Chelsea fail to make the top four, will be extremely expensive.
City have put Chelsea’s problems into sharp focus but the issues are stacking up and there doesn’t look to be an easy answer for Potter and his players right now.