Chelsea have confirmed that Graham Potter has taken over as new manager, replacing Thomas Tuchel.
Tuchel was sacked on Wednesday morning, just one day after his Chelsea side lost 1-0 to Dinamo Zagreb in their opening Champions League game, also their third consecutive away defeat. However, according to reports, the results had little to do with Tuchel’s departure, as the club had been reviewing his position under the new ownership.
In the statement announcing Tuchel’s departure, Chelsea said: “As the new ownership group reaches 100 days since taking over the Club, and as it continues its hard work to take the club forward, the new owners believe it is the right time to make this transition.”
As the shock started to wear off, thoughts immediately turned to who Chelsea would bring in to replace Tuchel. Managerial free agents Mauricio Pochettino and Zinedine Zidane were the early names, but Chelsea’s attention was on Potter, contacting Brighton and Hove Albion about the Englishman’s availability.
Matters moved along quickly and it was just a little over 24 hours later that Chelsea announced Potter as their new manager, the first change of the Todd Boehly era and the Blues’ 14th different permanent head coach since 2000 (including two spells for Jose Mourinho — that number goes up to 19 if we including interims and caretakers).
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Chelsea chairman Todd Boehly said: ‘We are thrilled to bring Graham to Chelsea. He is a proven coach and an innovator in the Premier League who fits our vision for the club. Not only is he extremely talented on the pitch, he has skills and capabilities that extend beyond the pitch which will make Chelsea a more successful club.
With Potter himself adding: “I am incredibly proud and excited to represent Chelsea FC, this fantastic football club. I am very excited to partner with Chelsea’s new ownership group and look forward to meeting and working with the exciting group of players and to develop a team and culture that our amazing fans can be proud of. I would also like to place my sincere thanks to Brighton & Hove Albion for allowing me this opportunity and in particular Tony Bloom and all the players, staff and supporters for their continued support during my time at the club.”
What will Graham Potter bring to Chelsea?
A few years ago, Potter was a little-known name. Despite playing his entire club career in England, Potter retired aged 30 and didn’t hit the heights, with three years at Stoke (1993-1996) and West Brom (1997-2000) his longest stints at a single team. He moved into coaching and reemerged in Sweden, taking charge of Ostersunds in the country’s fourth tier.
In four years, Potter had lifted Ostersunds up to the Allsvenskan and eventually won the Swedish Cup, granting access to the Europa League where they faced Arsenal in the knockout stages to put him in the English spotlight. Potter made his return to Britain with Swansea City but stayed just one season before moving to the Premier League and Brighton.
Despite some shaky spells, Brighton gave Potter time to build a squad and system and were rewarded by a ninth-place Premier League finish last season, the highest top-flight placing in the history of the club. More success seemed on the cards. The Seagulls are currently fourth in the Premier League and have the second-best defence in the division, with only Wolves (four) conceding fewer than their five.
Brighton just aren’t giving up any chances for their opponents to score, with their Expected Goals on Target Conceded of 3.75 the second-lowest in the Premier League this season, only bettered by Man City’s 3.6. Chelsea, meanwhile, have an xGTC of 8.7, the seventh-worst in the division.
But the stern defence hasn’t come at the expense of their attack, as can sometimes be the case. Brighton are the Premier League’s sixth-highest scorers so far this season with 11 goals in their six matches, three more than Chelsea. Having built a reputation of underperforming against their xG, Brighton have at last started to put away their chances.
This season, Brighton are slightly outperforming their xG by 0.09, with only three teams having a higher xG than the Seagulls’ 10.91. Again, compare that to Chelsea’s xG of 7.82 and you can see the benefit that Potter could have at Stamford Bridge.
He will need need time to implement his system but part of Chelsea’s statement suggests the club are excited by his ability to be “flexible in tactics and formations to be a step ahead of opponents.” Speaking of which…
Three ways Chelsea could line up
Unfortunately for Chelsea fans hoping for a move away from a back three, that’s unlikely to come from Potter. The back three is a system with which Potter has found success at Brighton and, considering Chelsea’s players have been recruited with a back three in mind, it will make no sense for the Englishman to change — at least not immediately.
Sticking with the 3-4-2-1 Chelsea have been using (one he also used at Brighton), there won’t be too many changes to the personnel with Edouard Mendy likely to keep his spot as No.1 for the time being.
Towards the end of last season, Marc Cucurella was being used as a left-sided centre-back for Potter at Brighton and we could see that return at Chelsea, as he often proved tough to beat in that position. However, having Cucurella there would see one of Kalidou Koulibaly, Thiago Silva and Wesley Fofana miss out – from what we expected Tuchel’s starting back three to be. Fofana is likely to be the one to drop out initially, given the experience of Silva and Koulibaly, but there will be plenty of opportunities for the Frenchman and Trevoh Chalobah to break into the team.
But the big difference between Tuchel and Potter will come in the midfield. With one holding midfielder Potter gave his midfielders a lot of freedom to roam further up the pitch. This has worked for Brighton, but they did have the security of Moises Caicedo as that lone No.6. Chelsea don’t currently have that with Jorginho not secure defensively and N’Golo Kante a walking injury – however, the Italian is likely to hold that role, perhaps until Denis Zakaria gains some fitness. This will definitely be one to solve in the transfer window, though.
Mateo Kovacic is likely to join Jorginho in the midfield and given more freedom to use his dribbling to get the ball up the pitch, but the likes of Conor Gallagher and Ruben Loftus-Cheek also have a role to play here. Reece James and Ben Chilwell are the wing-backs, though the latter could probably lose out to Cucurella if Potter doesn’t want to play the Spaniard as a centre-back.
Then the front three will probably be the one that started Tuchel’s final game. There were signs of Kai Havertz, Raheem Sterling and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang building a good understanding in the early moments of Chelsea’s defeat to Dinamo Zagreb, and Potter will be hoping he can get them up and running soon.
A back four
Potter does have history with a back four and changed to a 4-2-3-1 midway through Brighton’s defeat to Fulham, so it isn’t completely out of the question that this could be something he turns to at Chelsea. And the Blues do have the personnel for this.
In this system, we’d be likely to see Cucurella start as the left-back with James on the right. Chelsea have Cesar Azpilicueta as a rotational option and he will play at times, but the Spaniard has lost a lot of pace over the past year or so and is looking more susceptible to mistakes than ever before. There could be any combination of centre-backs but for this we’ve gone with Fofana and Koulibaly. It’s a similar case for the midfield, and we’re just looking at players available right now, so Kovacic and Jorginho provide a tried-and-tested duo. Chelsea fans will be hoping they never see Kovacic-Mason Mount ever again after that disastrous outing against Zagreb.
When it comes to the front four, there is the potential to be flexible between a 4-2-3-1 and 4-2-2-2 with Havertz likely to join Aubameyang in a more attacking position, though Sterling is also capable of playing alongside the striker. The other wide spot in this XI will be contested between Christian Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech, and the latter did not win over any doubters in the defeat to Zagreb, so Captain America is more likely to get a chance.
Or Potter could go for the Frank Lampard route and play Mason Mount on the wing in a 4-2-3-1 to get the extra pressing.
Another formation Potter has experimented with this season is a 3-3-3-1. Made famous by Marcelo Bielsa’s Chile side at the 2010 World Cup, the 3-3-3-1 allows more defensive stability which Chelsea desperately need with three central midfielders in front of three centre-backs. But it also brings more flexibility if a certain selection of players are used.
While some managers may opt to field a full-back in the midfield trio, which James would be able to do, when Potter lined his Brighton up in a 3-3-3-1 against Man Utd he had three central midfielders. For this we have allowed Potter to pick Kante, as he would be integral to this working – you still need good defensive-minded midfielders, which is why Mount would also get in, though he would probably press a bit more. Kovacic completes the midfield, ahead of the standard back three.
This formation would also give James and Cucurella more creative license, which can only be a good thing as the former is Chelsea’s most talented creator by some distance. Sterling and Aubamayeng complete the attack, but the likes of Havertz and Broja will also be fighting.
A 3-3-3-1 is perhaps a formation we’re least likely to see at Chelsea right now, because the Blues need to find stability first, but it’s there if Potter wants it.