Formation changes, Raheem Sterling at wing-back and big summer signings left out: How ‘Positive Potter’ has already put his stamp on Chelsea after RB Salzburg draw in his first game
- Graham Potter has taken little time to put his stamp on his new Chelsea team
- The former Brighton boss was appointed Blues manager last week by the club
- Potter’s first game in charge was a 1-1 Champions League draw vs RB Salzburg
The final result of Graham Potter’s first game in charge of Chelsea was a frustrating 1-1 draw with Red Bull Salzburg but what was quickly clear was that he has wasted little time starting to put his stamp on his new team.
Less than a week into the job and some of Potter’s tweaks were clear to see, from defensive changes to playing Raheem Sterling in an unfamiliar wing-back position and a positive outlook on the sidelines.
Here, Sportsmail takes a look at some of the differences in Chelsea on Potter’s debut.
Graham Potter’s first game in charge of Chelsea was a frustrating 1-1 draw with Red Bull Salzburg but it is clear he has wasted little time starting to put his stamp on his new team
Raheem Sterling scored his fourth in five games but the Austrian side pegged back the Blues
Graham Potter was known at Brighton for, among other things, his tactical versatility and that continued in his first game at Chelsea.
There were a variety of ways his selection could have lined up to start with but it proved to be a back three, of Cesar Azpilicueta and Marc Cucurella, full-backs predominantly in their careers, either side of Thiago Silva.
Further forward there was an element of flexibility with Jorginho, the deepest midfielder, dropping back to help out, Reece James, when keeping an eye on his direct opponent, occasionally did the same to make the backline look like a four.
At times Kai Havertz and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang were a front pair, at others the former was playing off the latter.
And as the game wore on Chelsea’s setup was adapted accordingly as Potter made changes until it was understandably kitchen-sink time as Chelsea chased a winner in the final stages.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (above) played in a fluid front two with fellow forward Kai Havertz
How they were positioned stood out, in possession regularly forming a triangle with Silva the deepest point and last man with Azpilicueta and Cucurella ahead on either side of him and primed to defend on the front foot.
They played their part in Chelsea’s attempts to push up and pin RB Salzburg into their own territory. There were times when one wrong move could have left them, and Silva in particular, exposed but for most of the game they avoided trouble.
And the fact Silva was coping so well made his slip for Salzburg’s 75th minute equaliser all the more frustrating as he had dealt coolly and classily with far trickier situations earlier in the game.
Defender Thiago Silva (left) generally looked solid as a sweeper but erred for Salzburg’s goal
Young Swiss Noah Okafor (right) scored the equalising goal with 15 minutes left on Wednesday
Wing-back Raheem Sterling
Sterling’s position would raise eyebrows if he was used as one in the traditional sense, asked to shuttle up and down the flank.
But in Potter’s plan he was high and wide, with Cucurella getting across alertly to minimise his defensive responsibilities so the England star could focus on what he does best.
How Sterling was used allowed him to get on the ball on a number of occasions and drive at his defender, especially in the first half. Often by the time he reached the danger area he had momentum behind him.
Sterling scored Chelsea’s goal – his fourth in his last five games – and was involved in a number of other dangerous situations, even if many were not maximised.
Having been used in a variety of roles so far, this one suited him well and he said: ‘It’s one I enjoy.’
Raheem Sterling insisted he ‘enjoyed’ lining up in an unfamiliar left wing-back position
Style of play
Ahead of his final game in charge last week Thomas Tuchel explained to BT Sport pundit Rio Ferdinand how his teams ‘in the perfect scenario’ would be aggressive and direct.
He accepted they had not been enough of that over the last season under him having evolved into a more ‘dominant team’ but Chelsea were far closer to what Tuchel wanted under Potter.
Less pedestrian, less sideways passing, more proactive, speed, intensity and forward passing. ‘We want good presence in the pitch, take the ball, attack as much as we can and when we lose the ball recover it as soon as possible,’ goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga explained.
‘Try to create chances, involve the fans with the atmosphere in the stadium and we are going to step it forward because it is only two or three training with the mister (manager). We changed a couple of things in the line-up and the structure.
‘So we have to adjust to that. But we saw positive things. New manager, new ideas so it is just the beginning.’ Mason Mount, who had been subdued this season, was among those who benefitted.
He capped an all-action display with his first assist of the season. Issues remain with their conversion of possession and attempts into goals.
Midfielder Mason Mount (right) was one of those who benefitted from the new style of play
Meanwhile, in Tuchel’s defence, N’Golo Kante’s absence deprived him of a key player capable of injecting urgency into Chelsea’s play but, on his first night at least, Potter found a way to have that without the influential Frenchman.
Aubameyang said: ‘His ideas are very clear so I think it’s going to be easy. It takes time to adapt to each other but I think it’s going to be ok.’
Following their big-money arrivals centre-backs Kalidou Koulibaly and Wesley Fofana were surprise omissions from the starting XI but price tags and status – two of the new owners’ recent purchases – counted for little for Potter who was not afraid to show he will make his own big decisions regardless of the wider view or expectation.
He expertly evolved Brighton by doing the same thing. Potter was happy to make full use of the five subs too. In the case of Koulibaly and Fofana, it is just one game though.
Chelsea have nine in October, ending with Potter’s return to the Amex, so plenty of opportunities for them to get games and the new head coach to look at his whole squad and leave others watching on from the sidelines.
Summer signings Wesley Fofana (left) and Kalidou Koulibaly (centre) were left on the bench
Goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga (pictured) pointed out Potter’s commitment to positivity
The Stamford Bridge press box is a prime viewing spot for some manager watching and Potter carries himself very differently to Tuchel. It was not uncommon to see and hear Tuchel’s displeasure when his players or the officials made decisions he did not like or his emotions when they scored.
Potter cut a much calmer, understated and measured figure on the sidelines. That is his persona. He likes to give his players the confidence to try things and if they don’t come off he will talk them through situations rather than come down hard on them.
That side of him was evident in the amount of encouraging and applauding he did of his players against Salzburg.
Aubameyang said: ‘He [Potter] is a really positive person and a great character. We will try to learn with him and to win as soon as possible.’
Kepa added: ‘He is very positive in his mind. He tries to give us positivity.’
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