White shirts were dancing all around the San Siro on Tuesday night, freely interchanging positions and gliding around a pitch that was supposed to induce fear and intimidation. AC Milan’s impressively assembled support made the iconic football cathedral a cauldron of noise even 30 minutes before kick-off.
Chelsea had also lost their last five trips to Italy in the Champions League, a further incentive for the Rossoneri to enact revenge for last week’s humbling. The ease to which Graham Potter’s men dispatched Milan for the second time in six days reflects how quickly his ideas are settling in.
Fikayo Tomori’s red card 20 minutes into the first- half altered the course of the game, no doubt, but the way in which Chelsea grabbed that advantage and effectively put the game beyond their hosts before the interval still requires praise.
The most impressive part of Potter’s early work has been proving that this group of attacking players do have enough to make a coherent and threatening combination. Maybe the sheer consistency of disappointment seen at Stamford Bridge over recent years in that area had led people to believe there was no solution, allowing the mystical theories of a curse to fester.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang forcefully shoving his peer Raheem Sterling to the side in order to bag his third goal in three games is the sort of attacking decisiveness Chelsea have lacked. The goal itself also showcased the neat combination of play around the box Brighton gained admiration for, now seeming to be replicated in west London.
Although Aubameyang rightly gains credit for his anticipation and ruthless finish, Chelsea look like a coherent unit in the final third, with multiple players getting involved, rather than the burden purely reliant on individual moments of brilliance.
Out of the 11 goals so far under Potter, seven of them have been scored by what you would deem “forwards”: Raheem Sterling, Aubameyang, Kai Havertz, Christian Pulisic and Armando Broja. Reece James, Wesley Fofana, Conor Gallagher and Jorginho make up the rest.
We may only have five games to go off, and many caveats can be thrown out regarding the quality of the opposition, but this is early progress. It may sound obvious, but stats demonstrate Chelsea are not only creating more but a better quality of chance for their forwards to finish. The margins are getting wider, and it seems players are beginning to enjoy themselves. What was also noteworthy about the two games against Milan was the subdued influence of Rafael Leao, a player of interest to the Blues over the summer transfer window.
This is not to say the 23-year-old did absolutely nothing. He made some very threatening runs at the Bridge and in flashes on Tuesday, provided more evidence as to why he is so admired.
The analysis, however, will be in praise of the way Chelsea nullified him, not much of a shock due to the work of Reece James, who has done that to a lot of attackers, along with the assured confidence of Trevoh Chalobah, again proving why he belongs at this level.
Leao’s lack of impact most importantly reflects why the consistent clamour at Chelsea to find attacking answers elsewhere may be silenced by improvement with what Potter currently has at his disposal.