Graham Potter hasn’t had much to smile about since his appointment as Chelsea manager back in September, but Sunday’s defeat to Tottenham Hotspur left the 47-year-old with a particularly haunted expression. There was also an air of resignation about a manager who has very little to use to make a case for himself right now.
“I haven’t done enough at this club to have too much good faith,” Potter admitted after watching his Chelsea team fall to yet another damaging defeat. The Blues are now on a winless run of six matches in all competitions and have won just two of their last 15 matches in a dismal run stretching all the way back to November.
Perhaps even worse than this is that Chelsea are struggling to hurt opponents. Indeed, they have scored the fewest goals of any Premier League team since the start of November. Put another way, Real Madrid have scored more goals (five) in England in 2023 than Chelsea have, and Los Blancos played just one match – away to Liverpool in the Champions League.
Clearly, this isn’t good enough for a club of Chelsea’s stature. They are currently closer to the bottom of the Premier League table than the top and while the Stamford Bridge club continues to back Potter there is widespread agreement that faith will be tested if the current run of form continues.
Potter, however, isn’t to blame for the situation Chelsea find themselves in. There isn’t another manager who would have coped much better in the current circumstances at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea’s dreadful form is simply a manifestation of all the disruption that has occurred at the club over the last nine months or so.
The sale of Chelsea by Roman Abramovich to Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital last summer gave the Blues something of an identity crisis before Potter had even been hired. For years, Chelsea were defined by their irrepressible desire to win. Stamford Bridge was a chaotic place at times over Abramovich’s tenure, but the team on the pitch continued to succeed.
Boehly, however, wanted a project manager to rebuild the club and looked to Potter as the ideal candidate. This hasn’t been in line with the thinking in the transfer market, though, with Chelsea spending money on players purely because they can. If Potter stands for something as a coach, this isn’t reflected in the business of the last two windows.
No fewer than 16 new players have arrived at Stamford Bridge since the end of last season. Some of the players signed in the summer have already been replaced by players who arrived in January – see Raheem Sterling who is now in direct competition with Mykhailo Mudryk for a place in Potter’s first team.
It’s no wonder Potter has struggled to find a system and approach to suit the players within the Stamford Bridge dressing room, given that he hasn’t had time to evaluate the quality of his squad. Potter also can’t be blamed for the lack of an elite level number nine at the club. Kai Havertz is capable in the position, but can’t be counted on for 20 goals a season.
“I’ve sat here for four months answering questions about pressure,” Potter said, reflecting on the current situation at Chelsea. “When the results are like they are, you have to accept criticism. But that’s not to say it’s easy at all. Your family life suffers, your mental life suffers, your personality… it’s hard.”
The biggest threat to Potter’s job security could be the number of high-quality candidates to replace him. Mauricio Pochettino has been out of work since leaving Paris Saint-Germain at the end of last season and would stand a good chance of implementing a more attacking and exciting style of play than the incumbent.
Zinedine Zidane is also on the market and would surely entertain the idea of a job in the Premier League, although the former Ballon d’Or winner might prefer the PSG position which could open up sooner rather than later. At this point, some Chelsea fans would take Thomas Tuchel back at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea must settle on a broader identity as a club before they can start building a team on the pitch that reflects this. Unfortunately for Potter, he might become collateral damage in this process. Replacing the former Brighton boss won’t fix the fundamental issues at Stamford Bridge right now, but it might be an inevitable step as Boehly looks to bounce his club back from recent troubles.