What Graham Potter did to silence doubters as Chelsea boss makes brutal call on January transfer
Chelsea have now won their last three games following their 3-1 triumph at Leicester City on Saturday afternoon. On what was a freezing cold afternoon at the King Power Stadium, the relegation-threatened Foxes knew there was an opportunity to get at the Blues even though Graham Potter’s team had picked up crucial wins against Leeds United and Borussia Dortmund over the last week.
It was fairly even in the opening exchanges but Chelsea took the lead through an emphatic Ben Chilwell volley. The former Leicester left-back was expectedly being booed with every touch, so he made sure the Foxes supporters knew all about his goal when celebrating. The goal was the latest sign that Chilwell is getting back to somewhere near his best after a torrid time with injuries over the past couple of seasons. The England international has been magnificent over the last three games and put in perhaps the best of all three performances at his previous home.
However, when Patson Daka took advantage of some questionable play from Joao Felix in his own half, the overriding and familiar ‘oh, here we go’ may have gone through some Chelsea supporters’ minds. Leicester were up after their goal, the momentum had changed. It was a different game.
In the previous wins against Leeds and Dortmund, neither of those sides scored and didn’t really get too close to, either. So when Leicester did score, Chelsea faced a different kind of adversity to what they’d been used to in their previous two outings. Potter’s side had to dig in and play shrewd football to overcome it.
So when Chelsea weathered the initial Leicester storm just after the equaliser, it was clear the Blues had to take their chances. A moment of pure magic from Enzo Fernandez just before the half-time whistle found Kai Havertz who volleyed home to ensure the Blues would go in with the lead.
It wasn’t until 78 minutes until we saw another goal at the King Power. Mateo Kovacic smashed the ball past Danny Ward on the volley to effectively hand Chelsea maximum points. In case you had forgotten, Kovacic was there to remind everyone that he doesn’t do ordinary goals.
And there was nothing ordinary about the Croatian’s performance on the day. Playing alongside Fernandez, as has been the case for all three of Chelsea’s wins over the past week, the two showed real signs of their partnership blossoming into something really special. They’re such different players but at the same time, they do many similar things very well. On the ball, they’re as good as it gets.
Kovacic is perhaps more of a ball-carrier, while Enzo – as Potter said after the game – sees everything around him. The first-half saw the two of them in a double pivot, something we’ve become accustomed to seeing recently and they had the difficult job of trying to keep James Maddison quiet.
Maddison, who is undoubtedly one of Leicester’s strongest attacking players, often floats about to try and find space, so he could be seen going to either side and it would be one of Kovacic or Fernandez’s jobs to keep an eye on him and get tight when needed. This would often leave the midfield duo quite far away from each other and consequently leave a big gap between them for Leicester to find space.
This was an issue for Potter and the Chelsea head coach addressed it at half-time by bringing an extra midfielder on in the form of Conor Gallagher and taking off an attacker in Felix.
“No, just tactically, I wanted to use an extra midfielder,” Potter told reporters when asked if Felix had an injury when he came off at half-time . “I felt we needed someone who could ball win, a different profile and I thought Conor was fantastic when he came on.”
Leicester were continuously winning the midfield battle in the first-half but Potter made the perfect substitute, which many questioned when it was announced just before the start of the second-half. It’s this tactical awareness that earned him so many plaudits at Brighton and it’s stuff like this that makes you remember he is a very gifted coach with a clear understanding of the game.
Gallagher came on and did very well. It was nothing flashy, like we perhaps associate with Fernandez, but it was professional, strict, to the point and exactly what Chelsea needed to see out the game. The double pivot of Enzo and Kovacic is something we’re going to see plenty more of between now and the remainder of the campaign – there’s no doubting that.
But sometimes it will get overran, that’s the reality of teams that play a three- man midfield coming up against a two-man setup. Potter reacted perfectly, swiftly and that little tweak at half- time may have been one of the defining elements in the close-fought game. Credit where credit is due.