Chelsea vs Man City: Graham Potter prepares for toughest test at worst possible time

Chelsea vs Man City: Graham Potter prepares for toughest test at worst possible time

Chelsea face a double-header against Manchester City at their worst moment of the season.

The Blues will kick-off at Stamford Bridge tonight 10 points off the top four, 19 behind leaders Arsenal and down in 10th place. It follows a poor run of just one win in seven Premier League games — and patience is wearing thin among frustrated supporters.

Manager Graham Potter met Chelsea co-owner Behdad Eghbali in California during the World Cup, when he was assured of his long-term future.

After Chelsea paid Brighton £20million in compensation to hire him in September, there is no reason to believe Potter is in immediate danger of losing his job, but defeat tonight would be another blow to their hopes of finishing in the top four, while missing out on the Champions League would have financial implications at a time when the Blues are on a UEFA financial fair play watch list and spending heavily on new recruits.

Exiting the FA Cup at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday would also raise the prospect of a trophyless season, so these two games against City could potentially define Chelsea’s season.

Against that backdrop, Potter is battling to retain support from fans, amid concerns over the performances of the team. He has admitted he is struggling to embed a fluid, shape-shifting and hard-working philosophy into his squad. The result has been a misfiring attacking line that has managed just 20 League goals this season — one fewer than City’s Erling Haaland — and is 16th in the statistics for chance creation.

Defensively, the Blues have struggled to integrate new signings Kalidou Koulibaly, Marc Cucurella and Wesley Fofana, who have all struggled, despite costing a combined £170m.

The injury setback suffered by Reece James 53 minutes into his return last month has also had a big impact. His absence has highlighted how reliant Chelsea are on their star right-back.

Marc Cucurella and Mason Mount. (Action Images via Reuters)
Marc Cucurella and Mason Mount. (Action Images via Reuters)

England star Raheem Sterling has struggled since his £47m move from City in the summer and is not even guaranteed to start against his former club tonight.

Since Potter took over, Sterling has scored just twice in 14 games. He was on target in Sunday’s 1-1 draw at Nottingham Forest, but initially did not celebrate until Mason Mount dragged him to enjoy the moment with the travelling fans.

That, perhaps, reflected a broader issue of poor body language and low morale within the squad.

A large group of players face uncertain futures at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea could bring in a winger, a striker and midfielder this month and were today closing in on the £35m signing of defender Benoit Badiashile from Monaco. A new goalkeeper could also be on the agenda in the summer, so a lot of players know they could be replaced.

More potential new signings, Stamford Bridge expansion plans and the new owners’ planned multi-club network are all exciting, but it will take time for that to have an impact.

They are all part of a long game to compete with City, who emulated Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea after their Abu Dhabi takeover.

City have dominated the English game since appointing Pep Guardiola, though Liverpool and now Arsenal have found ways to compete with them, and City are under pressure to close an eight-point gap to the Gunners at the top of the table.

Chelsea have plans to compete with City under Potter but, in the short term, are fighting to ensure their season is not left hanging in the balance by the end of the week.