Chelsea’s Graham Potter prioritizes results over style

Similar to companies, clubs like to talk about visions, philosophy, values ​​and identity. Who are we? where do we want to be It’s the kind of stuff that keeps motivational speakers busy and MBA programs in business.

They assume the current incarnation of Chelsea is no different. There’s a “project” – no, better yet, a “roadmap” to success – and it involved hiring manager Graham Potter and a couple of new scouts and recruiters, and made heavy investments in January. (Of course they invested heavily in the summer transfer window beforehand, but that probably wasn’t part of the big vision as the only people making the decisions were club chairman Todd Boehly, co-owner Behdad Eghbali and manager Thomas Tuchel, the latter swiftly being fired by the other two.)

The problem with the roadmap – and not just Chelsea’s, but any football club’s – is that it can clash with the reality of results.

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Depending on the club and the wisdom and patience of both fans and officials, there is always some leeway in the results. They sacrifice results in exchange for growth and development, whether that means creating chemistry, developing young players, or helping newcomers settle in. But there are limited sacrifices you can make, in part because eventually players get restless, fans get angry and the income you get from home goals and prize money decreases.

Chelsea have won their last two games, Saturday at home to Leeds United in the Premier League and Tuesday in the Champions League against Borussia Dortmund, to secure a place in the last eight. This is good for placating backers and bringing in extra money.

Is the way they achieved it part of the “project”? Probably not. does it matter? Probably yes.

Potter has been hired – at great expense lest we forget that the $25million (£22million) paid to Brighton in compensation comes second to the fee Bayern Munich paid RB Leipzig for Julian Nagelsmann’s services – on the back of his track record with Brighton, where he played attractive, modern football and produced excellent results in relation to the team’s resources, avoiding relegation on a tight budget in his first two seasons and then finishing in the top 10 last year led.

– Potter: “I’m still here” despite Chelsea pressure

Potter is a thoughtful, intelligent guy. He may not be like the traditional English footballers of yesteryear, the kind who distrust articulate ex-players like Potter with university degrees – let alone master’s degrees in “leadership, personal and professional development” – which could explain why he had in to go to the Swedish fourth division to get his first coaching job 12 years ago. But he could certainly make a good play with private equity guys like Boehly and Eghbali who were looking for an edge, and Potter’s steady rise up the managerial food chain suggested he not only had a “growth mentality”, but that he was actually growing in stature.

Here’s the thing: when we’ve watched Potter’s football at Chelsea, the kind that impressed at Brighton, the results have ranged from mediocre to poor, especially when he had possession. We’ve seen little of that in the last two wins – although there’s nothing wrong with that – and yet their results have been good.

It’s not like the Leeds and Dortmund games played out exactly the same, but there are some uncanny parallels.

Chelsea started brilliantly against both, creating many chances but not converting. That took about half an hour against Leeds. They then reduced the tempo, took the lead in the 53rd minute early in the second half with a header from Wesley Fofana and then made defensive substitutions to maintain the lead. After taking the lead, Chelsea managed just two shots on target for a 0.07 xG; Leeds had eight at an xG of 0.76.

As for Dortmund? Chelsea took the overall lead with Kai Havertz’s penalty in the 53rd minute – just like against Leeds – and then made defensive substitutions to protect them. In the last 37 minutes, Chelsea managed just one shot on goal (Havertz from just off the touchline) for a 0.01 xG. Dortmund managed 11 shots on goal with an xG of 0.86.

The difference was that on Saturday they had a lot of possession (58%) against a relegation-threatened opponent under a new coach, while the Bundesliga leaders had significantly less possession against Dortmund: just 39%. To a certain extent, that’s understandable: Leeds liked to concede possession away from a better team, while Dortmund, thanks to nine straight wins in a row, demanded the ball.

Anyway, 39% possession at home in a game you have to win isn’t very Pottery. Not when you consider his team averaged 52% possession in their three full seasons at Brighton. When a team on a budget have that much possession in the Premier League, you can be sure of one thing: it’s by design.

Even without the numbers, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Potters Chelsea aren’t playing like their Brighton side, only with better players as the owners had hoped. The reasons for that are myriad – new manager, much less time on the training ground given Chelsea’s European commitments, no pre-season, a whole host of new arrivals popping up in January – but leave that aside for now.

If you’re Potter and you want to keep your job, what do you do then? Are you trying to play like you did at Brighton, which is why you got signed? Or prioritize results by doing the textbook things that more traditional managers do, like closing up shop after taking the lead and implementing a game plan that basically consists of Enzo Fernandez trying to pound balls, and waiting for Joao Felix to create something out of nothing ?

I really don’t know the answer, and it’s obviously not a binary choice; there are shades of gray, and results also lend authority and credibility, things Potter needs too. But what’s fairly obvious is that Chelsea’s mini-turnaround has little to do with what got him the job in the first place, or the football he’ll be playing next season… assuming he’s not sacked first. Chelsea’s Graham Potter prioritizes results over style

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