Chelsea have a toxic energy - how is Graham Potter meant to succeed?
Although their form hasn't exactly been ground-breaking since mid-January, Chelsea have gone from regular defeats to one win and three draws in a row. Progress, of sorts.
The raft of January signings bankrolled by Todd Boehly has led to an air of positivity and rejuvenation on the face of things, but the club's unfamiliar league position means that that good feeling is thinly veiling impatience and a desperation for a quick change in fortunes among the fanbase, and perhaps the board.
Despite the £320 million ($390.5m) outlay last month, a new-look Chelsea are understandably struggling to get going - evidenced by disjointed displays in frustrating London derby draws against Fulham and West Ham in their last two outings.
Logic dictates that Graham Potter needs time - even more so than when he took the reins thanks to January's hoard of new arrivals - but there must be a change of outlook off the pitch for him and his players to stand any chance of succeeding.
GOAL runs through the main threats to Chelsea's progress...
- The Champions League is Erling Haaland's stage! Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are gone and the Man City striker is set to rule the competition for years to come
- Six reasons why Inter can do the impossible and beat Man City in the Champions League final
- From benching Rodri against Chelsea to matching up with Lyon: Pep Guardiola's worst 'overthinks' - ranked
- How Inter Miami will line up with Lionel Messi in the team
- Getty Images
Potter facing questions already
Although isn't always easy to know where the truth lies, it has been made abundantly clear by Chelsea's new ownership that Potter will be given time to mould the squad and playing style in his image, in the hope he will be able to emulate the work he did on a shoestring budget at Brighton on a much larger scale.
Indeed, it was reported once again following the draw with West Ham that Potter will be judged in 'years rather than months'. That should be reassuring for supporters, given the Englishman's obvious ability as a coach and the potential for a hugely exciting, attacking brand of football enacted by their wealth of new talent.
However, this is a fanbase accustomed to winning and whose impatience has been facilitated and exacerbated by the brazen hiring and firing of the previous regime, under which even the shortest periods of poor form could easily result in a sacking.
While some are asking tentative questions of Potter's suitability, some have already lost patience altogether, while others have called his mentality into question.
My question to my fellow Chelsea fans is 2 wins in 13 games acceptable or is it the correct thing to allow Graham Potter time to get it right? pic.twitter.com/TeekbmbNLX— Frank Khalid OBE (@FrankKhalidUK) February 11, 2023
Granted, he doesn't possess the sneering arrogance of a Jose Mourinho, nor the snarling intensity of a Thomas Tuchel, but Potter is his own man and his nice-guy approach should not become a stick to beat him with. It certainly shouldn't be construed as a lack of desire to win.
The timing of the hypothetical sacking that some fans seem to be mulling over would also make very little sense. Whether they like it or not - and regardless of the January spend - their hopes of Chelsea finishing in the Champions League places have been all but extinguished, with a 10-point gap to fourth surely unassailable even without the five other teams currently above them.
It would be far more logical to see what Potter can do in the remaining months of the season as his team really starts to take shape, and (hopefully) build on the progress made in 2023-24. Any significant progress in the Champions League would be a bonus.
Get on board and enjoy the ride.
- Getty Images
'Transition' undermined by big spending
Of course, Chelsea's on-field issues and the off-field clamour for immediate success transcend the manager.
Potter has often spoken of the idea of a 'transition' and a 'project', but those notions were probably undermined by the club's thriftless January spending - which the head coach made quite clear he had little say in.
Potter's language suggests that he feels he has time on his side and is here to oversee what will be a slow and gradual process. But with no fewer than eight new arrivals in January comes extremely heightened expectation - though realistically it shouldn't be a surprise if it takes a full pre-season for the coach to implement his ideas to the fullest extent.
He said recently: “We know the situation we’re in, we know the transition period that we’re in, so it’s always going to be a case of managing in challenging circumstances.
“But I'm certainly not complaining, it's exciting. It'll test me, it’ll test my attributes and my quality, and that’s something to be happy for. You see the profile of the players that we brought in.
“They're excited, they're excited for the now but also they can improve and get better as the team develops. It’s an investment from both parties. It’s a long-term commitment. So we need some stability. We need some work. We need to progress the team. And that's the challenge.”
- Getty Images
Cucurella becoming the scapegoat
The vast majority of the Chelsea squad have been desperately searching for form, but for some reason it is Marc Cucurella's struggles that have drawn the ire of certain sections of the Chelsea support.
Lumbered with an inflated £62m ($77m) price tag that the Blues willingly paid last summer, the Spaniard has become an easy target for abuse through no fault of his own as he toils to recapture the form that made him a standout performer under Potter at Brighton.
After having a wobbly game in the the home match with Fulham, Cucurella was shaky again against West Ham and was at fault for their equalising goal - giving the ball away deep in his own half before failing to shut down a cross that led directly to the leveller.
There were audible intakes of breath and grumbles from the away end whenever he took a touch, and he was actually jeered when his manager finally withdrew him and put Ben Chilwell on in his place to a huge roar.
It's hard to imagine many things less helpful than being booed by their own fans for a player whose confidence is already shot. Potter did his best to defend Cucurella at full-time, but the fans will need to get behind the players if they want to see them at their best, not turn against them at such an early stage of this process.
Mount deserves better, too
Another surprising recipient of regular bashings from the Chelsea faithful - predominantly online - has been Mason Mount, a man who can still count himself among the match-going fan favourites.
Like Cucurella and basically every other member of the squad bar Thiago Silva, Mount has not hit the heights we all know he is capable of reaching so far this season, but he makes up for that by carrying the identity of the club with his work rate, aggression and desire.
It's hard to pinpoint exactly why some sections of the fanbase with shorter memories have turned on him, with many even open to seeing him leave this summer, but perhaps it is because they expect so much more of one of the academy's greatest success stories.
It seemed inconceivable that Mount would ever leave the club when links to Liverpool emerged last year, but such is the ill feeling towards him in some quarters you absolutely wouldn't blame him for jumping ship.
With the new hierarchy spending so frivolously on external talent, leaving many in the academy concerned about their own futures, it feels imperative that the club's own are protected and supported. There needs to be demonstrable evidence that the pathway to the first team isn't blocked, and Mount is a shining example of that.
- Getty Images
Reasons to be positive - and patience is key
The board's commitment to not pulling the plug on the Potter project already should be seen as a huge positive.
Out of both domestic cup competitions, unlikely to qualify for the Champions League and rank outsiders for this year's edition, the rest of the campaign represents a blank canvas for the head coach and his players. If there are not signs of improvement then it would be fair to judge him in May.
For now, though, the upcoming fixture schedule offers something of a reprieve. A trip to Dortmund in the Champions League and a taste of that unique atmosphere could galvanise the squad, while a London derby at Tottenham - a match-up that usually brings the best out of Chelsea players - is sandwiched between games against strugglers Southampton and Leeds.
It is a month-long stretch that should provide a clearer picture of what exactly Chelsea will be under Potter and what the possibilities really are, with the new signings firmly embedded.