Manager has settled on a core group of players and should focus on next season rather than the league table
Thu 16 Mar 2023 10.00 EDT
It may sound funny, but Chelsea should not worry about their Premier League points tally for the rest of the season. Instead, they need to use this time to make sure they are ready to hit the ground running in August.
Graham Potter was appointed Chelsea manager in September and it has taken time to instil his culture and philosophy, but we are starting to see the green shoots. Football is a demanding environment and people want overnight success, but whenever a manager comes in he needs to learn about the players and vice versa.
Chelsea recruited heavily in the summer and January windows. Getting these players to settle in a new city and culture is hard. When a person starts a new job, they are not up to speed immediately; they have to learn how they fit into the role and what those around them do. They will not settle until they fully understand the office dynamics. This also happens in football.
In addition to the new coaching staff and players, Chelsea have made changes in the medical department. This level of upheaval is not straightforward to deal with and allowing things to settle is important for the long-term health of the team and the club structure.
Potter has also had a number of players out injured, losing Armando Broja, Édouard Mendy, César Azpilicueta, Thiago Silva, Reece James and N’Golo Kanté, which does not help attempts to form a cohesive unit.
Focusing on the Champions League is the best idea for Chelsea because it is all they have to play for. Encouragingly for them, they are finally producing consistent performances and Potter is relying on a core group who understand his methods. In Chelsea’s three wins last week, against Leeds, Borussia Dortmund and Leicester, eight players started every match and this will help build relationships within the team.
Previously, Potter has tinkered regularly with the lineup, trying to find the perfect blend. I was at Stamford Bridge for the game against Manchester City at the beginning of January when he was pulling people off after 70 minutes. It was like a pre-season friendly when you give players allotted minutes for a run-around.
It seems that work has allowed him to settle on those he wants to move forward with. He knows Chelsea will probably sign a few players in the summer and sell some, but this core group will be there. I am sure they would have liked another game this midweek to help build the momentum, but at the same time some rest and recovery will have aided those with a heavy workload after an intense period.
Lots of players have been used in different positions but 3-4-3 suits Chelsea best. That was the case under Thomas Tuchel and conceding once in their past three matches shows it is the same under Potter. They are better in a back three and Silva’s absence has made them more aggressive in how they press as a defensive unit.
Chelsea have really good wing-backs who have brought a lot of success. Ben Chilwell and James are two of the best in the business and with the impending arrival of Malo Gusto from Lyon they have all the right components. Three centre-backs and two quality wing-backs give the squad a strong foundation.
We are seeing more of the Potter side we have been waiting for and what they will look like next season. If they have a good pre-season, it could be like 2015-16 when Chelsea finished 10th and won the league the following season. I still think the centre-forward piece is missing. They have Christopher Nkunku coming in the summer, but he is not a No 9 and they will want someone with a cutting edge. They need to create a number of chances to score a goal, as they showed against Dortmund, so they will be hoping to become more efficient.
Everton visit on Saturday and will be a great test for Chelsea in front of a crowd buoyed up by the recent wins. Under Sean Dyche, Everton have proved a hard nut to crack and will provide a challenge for a side not clinical in front of goal. Three of Everton’s back-four are central defenders and their midfield is very industrious. They have found some form with a win against Brentford and a draw at Nottingham Forest in their past two games.
It will be about scoring the first goal and Chelsea will have to be patient, which they have struggled with at times. Potter’s Brighton would get through teams and knew how to be patient and he needs to instil that mentality. Chelsea have had good wins this month against two sides fighting for survival and another against Everton would be a boost going into the international break.
For Chelsea, it is about putting in the foundations to make a real charge in the future. It is what Arsenal did and they are reaping the rewards. Manchester United are doing likewise with their steady progress. Things do not happen overnight in the Premier League because it is the best in the world. Chelsea should try to finish as high as they can, but more than anything this is about a good run they can take into next season.