Tactical chameleon, flexibility overload, he’ll get the players to click, statement win early doors. It’s the Graham Potter show at Chelsea but it’s got a backdrop of Thomas Tuchel, how couldn’t it? The German’s impact at Stamford Bridge was simply too big for things to change drastically.
The movement away from Tuchel almost mirrors Brighton’s own situation once Potter left. Apart from the small matter of Potter being poached by billionaire owners at one club and Tuchel being sacked by billionaire owners, Roberto De Zerbi’s desire to adapt the approach is exactly what is expected at Stamford Bridge. Potter has the foundations of a brilliant team.
There’s experience, there’s youth, there’s resources and money, there’s Reece James, there’s money. It shouldn’t take a good manager long to get the best out of the group. Tuchel showed that there were ways of doing it and that the players Frank Lampard was using weren’t just bad.
That’s not the issue for Chelsea managers, it’s sustaining the length of time the players on board before they get bored. Before things turn and they’re back at page one. The good thing with Potter is that as a modern manager who favours a back three but is largely flexible, he’s already several chapters in, Harry is already at Hogwarts, we know his aunt is called Petunia, lets skip the formalities and get to winning.
Perhaps that’s why there wasn’t a sense of shock against AC Milan. This squad, minus a glaring five-year-old midfield issue, is good enough to beat most teams 3-0 when they get going. Potter did it ahead of schedule, but it was needed. Now the task is to do something Tuchel never did.
Beat Wolves. Somehow, despite beating Pep Guardiola three times, Nuno Espirito Santo and Bruno Lage were a step too far for Tuchel. Potter may have a way around that though. Unlike his predecessor, who was also described as a tactical chameleon with a flexibility overload that would get the attack clicking – see where this is going? – Potter has delivered on his favoured movements already.
Tuchel was always waiting for the pieces to align, then he could fully transform Chelsea, Potter hasn’t waited, and it’s got the attention of Martin Keown. The former Arsenal defender wrote in his column for the Daily Mail:
“Potter is one of football’s most flexible coaches and I’ve always found his teams a fascinating watch. “Brighton last season used 13 systems across 38 Premier League matches, the most of any team by some margin. Yet the starting formation is not where it ends with Potter. His team is like a chameleon, always changing and disguising itself from its prey. It leaves opposition coaches scrambling to work out what formation they’re facing.”
Partly in order to stop the opposition and inversely to get the best out of Chelsea, Potter has used a variety of formations already, and Keown is a fan of the bold moves he’s made:
“Against RB Salzburg, Chelsea used 3-4-2-1, with Potter demonstrating he is not afraid to make decisive decisions by dropping Wesley Fofana and Kalidou Koulibaly – £104million’s worth of centre backs. Instead, he cleverly used two full backs either side of Thiago Silva in the back three which enabled them to get extra bodies down the flanks.
“Against Crystal Palace, Chelsea changed to 4-2-2-2, including a midfield box – Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic as the first tier and Mason Mount and Kai Havertz the second tier. That box was also changing shape during the game by rotating to become a diamond, with Jorginho at the base, Kovacic on the left, Mount on the right and Havertz the tip. This constant changing of shape made it difficult for Palace to take control of the game.
“Against AC Milan, Chelsea changed to a more compact 3-4-3, this time bringing Fofana and Koulibaly back into the fold either side of Silva. For their third goal, you could see how Raheem Sterling moved into a central area, taking the Milan left back with him. That created the space for Chelsea’s right wing back Reece James to drive forward and score.
“That’s three games and three different systems, each one top and tailed by a specialist goalscorer in Aubameyang at one end and a defensive expert in Silva at the other. They are key to Potter’s continued success at Chelsea and all these adaptations demonstrate this coach’s ability to change his team shape in order to beat whatever opponent is in front of him.”
When it comes to Wolves, Potter will use the same principles but apply them differently once again. His challenge will be to get the information across to his players in a short gap between Champions League and Premier League fixtures, but his already demonstrated ability to mould teams is only going to be a big boost for the bamboozled managers he comes up against.