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Thursday, February 9, 2023

Luis Enrique is a better fit for Chelsea than struggling Graham Potter

Graham Potter’s exasperation was clear to see as Chelsea suffered another defeat to Manchester City – their second to the same opponents in only a matter of days, and their sixth from their last seven matches in all competitions. Appointed to be a project manager for the Blues in the long-term, Potter is struggling badly to find positive results in the immediate term.

Chelsea aren’t so much in a slump, but a death spiral. They are currently sitting a lowly 10th in the Premier League table, closer to the relegation zone than Arsenal in first. The 2022/23 season isn’t yet at the halfway point, but Chelsea’s chances of finishing in the top four and staying in the Champions League are already as good as over.

Potter can only be blamed for so much. There has been a great deal of upheaval at Stamford Bridge over the last 12 months or so with new owners installed last summer following the sale of the club by Roman Abramovich. The likes of Marina Granovskaia and Petr Cech departed Chelsea with Abramovich, leaving the Blues without any sporting structure to speak of.

New owner Todd Boehly filled in as interim sporting director for six months, during which time Chelsea operated in a scattergun way in the transfer market. There was no clear or coherent strategy from the Stamford Bridge club as they spent close to €350m on the signings of Wesley Fofana, Marc Cucurella, Raheem Sterling and Kalidou Koulibaly among others.

Appointed as Thomas Tuchel’s replacement in September, Potter has found himself in the middle of all this chaos. He is building a plane while flying it at the same time, so it’s unsurprising that Chelsea have failed to take flight. The hope is that Chelsea’s problems will straighten out over time, but Potter might not be afforded much time in the first place.

“You can make excuses and look for reasons or say it isn’t good enough,” said Potter. “Both of those answers are correct. We have to keep improving and stick together because clearly we are suffering as a football club and it’s not nice at all. But that’s where we are at the moment.”

“You understand the supporters’ frustration, we respect that,” Potter responded to Chelsea fans singing the name of Tuchel during the FA Cup defeat to City. “There are always other opinions and negativity and criticism because the results haven’t been positive. That’s part of the job and part of the challenge.”

While Potter can’t be solely blamed for Chelsea’s troubles, some of his tactical decisions haven’t helped. The former Brighton boss has switched back and forth between various formations since becoming Chelsea manager with the players on the pitch unsure of their roles and responsibilities within the team.

It has surely entered Boehly’s mind that Chelsea might have no other choice but to make a second managerial change this season, particularly with Luis Enrique out of work following the 2022 World Cup. Enrique is keen to re-enter club soccer after working as Spain manager and Chelsea would be a good fit for him.

In Kepa Arrizabalaga, Chelsea have a goalkeeper who can play out from the back, which would be useful for Enrique. Meanwhile, Jorginho could be the Blues’ pass-master in the centre of the pitch. Chelsea have a squad full of adaptable, versatile players who would stand a good chance of success under the former midfielder. 

Enrique likes his teams to control possession and Chelsea have players capable of doing this. The Stamford Bridge side currently lacks a true number nine, but Spain played a number of matches at the 2022 World Cup without an obvious focal point even when they had good options on the bench. 

Manchester United explored the possibility of hiring Enrique before appointing Erik ten Hag last summer and there’s good reason to believe the former Barcelona manager would be open to taking over a Premier League club. His track record will make him a candidate for whichever ‘Big Six’ job opens up next.

Boehly insists Chelsea are building for the long-term, but there is only so much pain the club can suffer in the short-term. Potter is a good coach, yet there is no guarantee he is the right man for the Stamford Bridge outfit. Enrique, however, would tick a lot of boxes for the Blues. The longer Potter’s troubles continue, the more likely it is that he will be replaced.

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