Chelsea’s new dawn brings Potter familiar problems as goals dry up and Aubameyang faces Champions League exile

LONDON– Last but not least, Chelsea’s New beginning dawns. This was the moment when the Graham Potter players could finally begin to break the ties that bound them to right the wrongs and banish the taste of that great disastrous moment in Stamford Bridge history. The 2022 summer transfer window has been cast in the depths of memory. Now for the fresh start.

In the end it was 0-0 with a draw Fulham corresponded only too much to the disastrous shape of the previous Mini era. The attacking talent came with gaudy price tags but appeared to have been put together with no real idea how it would fit together. All the possession that Stamford Bridge was able to offer was converted into slightly fewer shots on goal than the opposition, who defended well but were rarely pushed back into the box to score a point, meaning Marco Silva’s west London side continues to have the right to indicate.

The experience changed little for those grumbling their way down Fulham Road after the final whistle. At least the staff was different. Only one player arriving in the summer’s £278million tide retained his place in Potter’s starting XI and it’s safe to assume that’s the case Marc Cucurella will soon join the likes of Kalidou Koulibaly and Raham Sterling – a dearly paid veteran who serves as a direct contrast to the recruiting blueprint Chelsea have established so far this season – on the bench if Ben Chilwell is fit and firing. It could be worse. Like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, he could be left entirely out of the matchday squad and Champions League group on Friday night.

Instead, Graham Potter’s forward options in January included one signing on the pitch and two others on the bench. The midfield is also radically reorganized. The signing of Enzo Fernandez, who appears to be calling for a permanent system change away from full-backs and a midfield duo to a formation that can at least bring out the best in itself Conor Gallagher, a player the club hierarchy was only too willing to sell. Not only is this a completely different page from the Roman Abramovich era, it’s one that’s been revamped mid-journey.

“We haven’t done enough to create more in terms of our attacking game,” Potter admitted. “They saw a team against us that defended very, very well. We probably lacked that level of connection, flexibility and understanding you need. That’s understandable considering we have players who have returned from injury and new players in the squad.”

In such circumstances it is perhaps easy to understand why Chelsea have taken so long to gain a foothold against their west London rivals. It was the visitors who made the early run at Stamford Bridge, a side rich in physicality that they combined with Rapier speed on the break. Midfielders in blue rebounded from Joao Palhinha, whose well-timed through ball found Andreas Pereira in the palm of his hand kepa Arrizabalaga. Aleksandar Mitrovicwho got to grips with Enzo Fernandez on an early turn yelled, “You’re not in Estoril anymore, boy.”

However, it didn’t take long for Fernandez to adapt to the pace of the competition. He didn’t shy away from his fight against Mitrovic as the Fulham forward dropped Chelsea’s powerful pairing of centre-backs. Once he was on the ball with the boot, his pass was precise and progressive. He had clearly understood after just one training session that taking the ball to Reece James on the right is rarely the worst idea.

With Mason Mount and Conor Gallagher not needing a second invitation to drive up front, there were plenty of options ahead of Fernandez but none with much authority in front of goal. Mikhail Mudryk built up quite a bit of steam to dash into Kenny Tete’s brick wall for 45 minutes. Noni Madueke, another January signing, and then Sterling had little more joy against one of the Premier League’s most underrated gems.

Before them came the travails of Kai, Chelsea’s record-breaking signing from a bygone era (some time after the Sarriball civil wars but before the doomed romance with Thomas Tuchel came the Germanic influx Frank Lampard had no idea what to do with it). Much like Timo Werner, there was something admirable about his ability to get in the right spot so often, it’s a shame how capricious his finish was. The technical quality was to be commended Bernd Lenoluck was lacking when the ball hit the post.

Boehly could burn well over £600m employing the world’s leading scientists, philosophers and religious leaders without finding an answer to the big question of our time: ‘What is Havertz’s best position?’ He and so many of those around him didn’t look like they could amortize a goal over an eight-year payment plan right now. Substitute David Datro Fofana went closer than anyone, circled Leno and sent Issa Diop slip on the floor beforehand Tim Riem saved Fulham on the line.

With 21 games played, Chelsea have only scored 22 goals. Erling Haland, already a quarter of a century old, races into the distance. Meanwhile, No. 9, which was supposed to solve the goalscoring blues under Tuchel, is not needed. Aubameyang may not be the force he once was, but with three goals in all competitions he is still third in Stamford Bridge’s top scorer chart.

Those close to Aubameyang were stunned and angered by the decision to hand his services off for the upcoming European games, noting that Potter had opted not to add experienced, orthodox nines to the squad. Instead, points were awarded Wesley FofanaN’Golo Kante and Christian Pulisicall of whom are expected to miss at least some of the games that begin on February 15 against Borussia Dortmund (on Paramount+).

The 33-year-old’s fall since the sacking of Tuchel, planned before the signing was completed, has been staggering, although it’s fair to say his 841 minutes at his new club have ticked by in spurts. More than any other decision, his signing raises serious questions about whether the new owners will disrupt this sport in a way that will benefit Chelsea. When Aubameyang took over the blues Manchester United, were two of the key selling points of working under a coach who held him in such high esteem and played in the Champions League. Neither is available to him within six months.

“Pierre is a professional, of course I understand that he will be disappointed,” Potter said. “It was a tough decision. He didn’t do anything wrong at all…Pierre is just unhappy and will fight for his place for the rest of the season.

“It was my decision. It was a tough decision but something you have to do to make those calls. It’s difficult because I’m empathetic, I understand his disappointment, but I have a responsibility to make those difficult decisions and articulate them as honestly as I can and respect the fact that he will be disappointed.

“He coped very well, trained fantastically today. He was a top guy for us. He can [fit into this team]. Everything is available. He needs to keep working, train like he did today and be ready to play. Football is changing fast.”

Perhaps the bigger problem for Aubameyang lies in his manager’s words of support. Multiple sources give Potter’s assessment of the veteran who broke down with previous coaches but was a model professional in difficult circumstances. It’s just that the manager of Chelsea, a team that can’t buy a goal (and you have to assume Boehly is willing to pay top dollar for it), doesn’t rate him highly enough. He won’t change to become the player his boss wants, no matter how much Potter needs someone to put the ball in the net.

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