Graham Potter has never attended a Champions League game, let alone coached one from the touchline. Yet tonight at Stamford Bridge, the new Chelsea boss will be tasked with guiding the Blues to an important group-stage victory over Red Bull Salzburg. Last week’s defeat to Dinamo Zagreb – which proved to be Thomas Tuchel’s final game in charge of the Blues – was a damaging one in the context of Chelsea’s Group E campaign. It’s left little margin for error for Potter in the weeks ahead.
“It will be an amazing evening for all of us,” said Potter at his pre-match press conference. “We’re all very excited about it, but at the same time, we have been trying to prepare a team, focus on the game, get to know all the players, and get to know everyone at the training ground. But there’s no denying we are really looking forward to it.”
Potter was named Tuchel’s replacement on Thursday afternoon and, following the death of Queen Elizabeth II and the cancelled Premier League match against Fulham, was able to work with his new players on the training pitches at Cobham for four continuous days.
Does that mean Potter rips up what worked before and completely overhauls Tuchel’s tactical structure? That is unlikely, especially as the 47- year-old has tended to favour 3-5-2 and 3-4-3 systems in recent seasons at Brighton.
There will be changes. That much is inevitable. But not in goal with Kepa Arrizabalaga set to continue between the posts due to first-choice stopper Edouard Mendy being ruled out with a knee injury, as football.london revealed yesterday morning.
If Potter is to continue with a back three as anticipated, Thiago Silva will be restored to the centre after missing the defeat in Zagreb last time out. Wesley Fofana will then occupy the spot on the right and Kalidou Koulibaly will keep his place on the left despite struggling in Croatia.
Reece James is nailed on to start at right wing- back but who Potter selects on the opposite flank is intriguing. Ben Chilwell had regained his starting role for Tuchel’s last match at the helm, but the England international may drop back down to the bench given Marc Cucurella worked with Potter at Brighton.
A three-man midfield may be favoured by Chelsea’s new head coach. Jorginho, who undertook pre-match media duties, may be deployed as a six with Mateo Kovacic and Mason Mount alongside the Italian midfielder. Both would be given licence to break into the final third. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who is still nursing a jaw injury, should get the nod to continue in attack after making his Chelsea debut against Dinamo and he is expected to be partnered with Raheem Sterling, who has scored three goals for the Blues in his opening seven matches following a summer switch from Man City. Predicted Chelsea side:
Kepa; Fofana, Silva, Koulibaly; James, Mount, Jorginho, Kovacic, Cucurella; Aubameyang, Sterling.