One of the most talked- about stories in professional soccer in recent months has been Chelsea FC’s struggles to win seemingly any game. The Blues currently sit 10th in the Premier League, are out of both the League and FA Cups, and are behind 1-0 to Borussia Dortmund in their Champions League round of 16 tie after the first leg. All of this has occurred despite new owner Todd Boehly spending over $600 million on transfer fees since the summer of 2022, the most in world soccer by a massive margin. Graham Potter, one of soccer’s most highly-touted managers, was brought in to coach the side in September, but despite having some of the world’s best talent at his disposal, Chelsea have only slid down the league table and out of almost every Cup competition, with the Champions League being their only remaining hope of winning a trophy this season, and not looking good at that. So what has gone so hopelessly wrong at this massive club to result in such a drastic drop in results?
Of course, we ought to examine the style of play Chelsea has under Potter, to assess if players are being used ineffectively and that is what has caused the club to decline. The short answer is, maybe. Potter began by playing a three-defender system not unlike that used by his predecessor, Thomas Tuchel. In that system, wing backs were given freedom to roam forward, while wingers tucked inside to create numerical overloads in and around the penalty area. The system had proven effective under Tuchel because it allowed him to cover for the club’s lack of a distinct striker proven at scoring goals. However, in recent months, the 3-4-3 or 3-5-2 (whichever it was Potter chose on the day) has failed to provide goals for Chelsea, so he switched to a four-at-the- back system to allow for more space for attacking players to flow into and create chances, presumably with the intention of integrating dynamic new signings like Mykhailo Mudryk and Noni Madueke, who prefer to have the ball at their feet in space than attempt to combine in tight spaces. But this too has proven fruitless, leading me to lean towards a separate issue being the root of Chelsea’s perceived allergy to winning games.
The problem, as far as I can tell, lies in the rather disjointed nature of the Chelsea squad. It remains incredibly bloated and contains numerous key players who are brand- new to the Chelsea team this season. Take the recent embarrassing loss to Premier League bottom side Southampton, for example. In that match, both central defenders were new to the club this year, with Benoit Badiashile only signing in January and Kalidou Koulibaly signing this past summer. In midfield, Enzo Fernandez is also a January signing, while the four man attack contained three more January signings in João Félix, David Datro Fofana and Noni Madueke. The entire spine of the team is brand-new to the club, which comes with massive adjustments and pressure at a club with the expectations like those of Chelsea fans. Furthermore, all of these players come from completely different systems of play, so gelling together will take a lot longer than the singular month they have had to this point. Madueke comes from a possession-heavy PSV team; Joao Felix is traditionally a flair merchant of an attacking midfielder, but he just spent two and a half seasons playing for Diego Simeone’s defensive powerhouse Atletico de Madrid; Badiashile played in a counter attack-heavy system at Monaco, as did Koulibaly at Napoli and Fofana lacks any proper top-flight experience to even speak about.
With all of that said, we ought to return to Potter for one final point in understanding Chelsea’s dramatic drop off. Chelsea is his first major coaching job. To date, his only notable roles had been Ostersunds FK in Sweden, Swansea City in the Championship and lowly Brighton and Hove Albion in the Premier League. To go from managing the likes of Lewis Dunk and Solly March to a cast of international superstars is a massive jump, and perhaps one Potter was not truly prepared for. This appointment may go one of two ways: he may simply need time to find his feet before leading Chelsea to continental domination, or he may be so hopelessly out of his depth that this club is beyond saving while he is at the helm. Only one thing is for certain: for a club with an owner seemingly spent on bankrupting himself to buy as many big-name players as possible, and a squad filled with the world’s most highly paid prima donnas, Potter is not the man to bring immediate success.