Potter's ability, Pulisic's future and selection consistency: Six questions Chelsea must answer after the World Cup break
There are few Premier League managers who should have benefited more from the anomaly of a mid-season 'pre-season' than Chelsea's Graham Potter.
Although it feels like a lifetime ago, the Blues' form dipped alarmingly in early November after an encouraging start to Potter's tenure and they entered the World Cup break without a win in five Premier League games, culminating in three straight defeats.
But with all eyes fixed on Qatar for the past month, Potter will have been able to quietly go about his work in the background and make use of an incredibly rare opportunity to implement his ideas mid-season.
However, there are still plenty of questions to answer as Chelsea prepare to face Bournemouth in the Premier League on Tuesday.
GOAL runs through them below...
- Chelsea ratings: Every Blues player's performance in the 2022-23 season - ranked
- Lampard: Where does Everton gamble leave Iwobi?
- Real Madrid player ratings vs Athletic Club: Karim Benzema signs off in style as Los Blancos pip Atletico to second place in La Liga after final-day draw
- Can Burkina Faso banish memories of Nigeria 2013?
#6 Are Chelsea's fitness problems behind them?
Given their lavish summer spending and (arguably superficial) squad depth, it is easy to forget that Chelsea were plagued by injuries in the early part of the season.
Key players Wesley Fofana, Reece James, N'Golo Kante and Ben Chilwell have all been sidelined for lengthy periods with knee and hamstring issues, respectively, but it was encouraging to see them included in the travelling squad for a warm weather training camp in Abu Dhabi ahead of a return to domestic action.
In October, Potter spoke of his desire to rectify the club's poor recent fitness record. "I don't think you should blame everything on luck that's for sure," he said. "I think we can have a look and see what we can do better. Obviously, I've been here a few weeks so I haven't got the answers completely. But clearly, we want to always try to improve and that's an area that we can probably improve."
The World Cup pause will have hopefully provided ample time, data and statistics to get to the bottom of their woes, though a setback for Fofana will be a concern.
#5 Stick or twist with World Cup stars?
Ironically, two of Chelsea's best performers at the World Cup are players whose futures at Stamford Bridge are far from certain: Christian Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech.
Both wide men were transformed in their national team colours in Qatar, inspiring their nations to the knockout rounds.
Pulisic looked close to his best as he made three goal contributions in just four games for the United States, including the vital winning goal against Iran in the group stage.
Meanwhile, Ziyech was equally influential as he rediscovered his swagger - scoring an audacious lob and assisting too as Morocco topped a group that included Belgium and Croatia. Although his influence waned, he will surely be buoyed by making history as the Atlas Lions became the first African nation to reach the World Cup semi-finals.
Chelsea may well have a choice to make: Give the pair more opportunities and see whether their form translates to domestic action, or cash in on their eye-catching World Cup displays.
It's unlikely they will part with both in January, though.
- Getty Images
#4 What is Chelsea's best midfield?
Injuries haven't helped, but constant chopping and changing in midfield have resulted in Chelsea's lack of form, consistency and identity.
Jorginho, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Mateo Kovacic and Conor Gallagher have shared the load in N'Golo Kante's notable absence, but none of them contribute enough in an attacking sense. Mason Mount could provide that impetus in a three, but he needs to buck up his ideas, too.
In truth, Chelsea missed a trick when they failed to reinforce that area in the summer, although Juventus loanee Denis Zakaria's performances suggest he deserves more opportunities.
There is work to be done. Potter needs to find the right balance - and fast.
- Getty Images
#3 What is Chelsea's best attack?
Similar to the midfield, both Thomas Tuchel and subsequently Potter's rotation has at least in part contributed to Chelsea's forward players struggling to hit the heights expected of them.
Depending on the set-up of the side - something that also changes on a regular basis - some combination of Kai Havertz, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Raheem Sterling seems likely to become the most fruitful attack on paper, but it's clear they will need time to become a cohesive unit.
As previously mentioned, an in-form Pulisic or Ziyech could have a say if they can translate their international form to the Premier League.
- Getty Images
#2 Does Graham Potter have what it takes?
By all accounts, Potter has the long-term backing of Chelsea's new owners, but while he was by no means an unpopular appointment among the fanbase, there are question marks over whether he's ready for the step up to a top-four club following the pre-World Cup dip in form.
There is no doubt the manager will have been working overtime during the opportune mid-season break, and he will want to make a fresh start from the off as Chelsea ease back into domestic life with matches against newly-promoted Bournemouth and Nottingham Forest.
Potter has proven at Brighton that, given time, he is capable of building a formidable team that plays an exciting brand of football. If he is to be given the longevity he was seemingly promised, Chelsea will need to start showing those traits quickly.
#1 Is the squad good enough to compete?
This is the overarching, burning question for Chelsea supporters.
There is a feeling that several areas of the squad have been left to stagnate, while the big-spending summer transfer policy was perhaps a little too scattergun in light of the precise surgery that was required.
The Blues' core of central midfield players has remained the same for several seasons now, and although Mateo Kovacic has undoubtedly improved in his four seasons at Stamford Bridge, Jorginho has failed to meet expectations and N'Golo Kante's powers - and body - appear to be on the wane.
At the back, the failure to tie Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen down to new contracts proved costly, and they were forced to roll the dice on two players at the opposite ends of their careers in Wesley Fofana and Kalidou Koulibaly. What was once Chelsea's most settled area of the pitch is now unresolved for the time being.
The west Londoners have infamously lacked a regular goalscorer in recent years, too. Romelu Lukaku's arrival was supposed to remedy that, but we all know how that went. On the evidence of the season so far, Aubameyang will not be the long-term solution.
Of course this has not been for the want of trying, but the Blues' failure to compete for the Premier League title in recent seasons has seen them miss out on the kinds of signings that would have propelled the team to another plane, such as Erling Haaland, Matthijs de Ligt and Aurelien Tchouameni.
There is something less tangible that is amiss, too. Chelsea's modern success has been built upon a 'never say die' attitude and a belief that would get them over the line when the going gets tough. However, this group of players seems to lack that mentality, often caving in high-pressure situations and receiving thrashings against so-called lesser sides at an alarming rate.
These are deep-rooted issues that transcend the manager, with Tuchel pointing to an overall lack of quality in the summer before he was relieved of this duties. Potter will do what he can, but he will need the backing of the board.